Yesterday at the conference I met Rosy. Right from the start she seemed to be the most interesting person in the room. I met her just before the Ladies Coffee, which was a social time built into the conference. I didn’t register for the Ladies Coffee right away just because the idea of a Ladies Coffee didn’t really appeal to me.
My cousin, Mona* was expecting me in Virginia Beach during the week. I opted to have a few days to myself and do some exploring before visiting her on her day off. I’ve been to Virginia several times before as a child and I’ve always had fun family memories here. I decided to hit the beach.
When I arrived at the coast, finding free parking for my van was too much of a hassle. I caved in and paid five dollars to a Catholic Church that rented out its parking lot to tourists during the week. Though the weather was very warm, I had no intention of swimming. Instead, I walked all along the boardwalk to take in the scenery. I saw families riding together in rented bikes, lovers holding hands, and children running around in the sand. It felt good being surrounded by so much energy and joy. I came upon carnival rides, including one of my favorites, the swinging Viking ship, which will turn your stomach inside out. I considered buying a few tickets, but the zeal quickly passed me. I don’t want my stomach turned inside out… I guess I am a grown up now! I wandered off the boardwalk and window shopped at many of the interchangeable souvenir shops in town.
The next day, I visited Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.). Edgar Cayce is known as “The Sleeping Prophet” and “The father of Holistic Medicine”. He has given psychic readings to thousands of clients while in an unconscious state where he would diagnose illnesses and foretell the future. Visiting A.R.E. was a big deal for me because I’ve been interested in Cayce’s work as a Christian psychic, prophet and healer since I first heard about him on the show, Unsolved Mysteries in the 1980’s.
I attended their free, guided tour of the visitor center, watched an orientation film and enjoyed two spiritual lectures: Holistic Healing and Spiritual Awareness. Edgar Cayce believed Virginia Beach was one of the safest places in the world to live because he felt it would be naturally protected from dramatic climate changes. It was pointed out to us that (unlike other towns in close proximity) the area has yet to be devastated by hurricanes. This wasn’t hard to believe. Virginia Beach, by the water has a very peaceful, dream-like, spiritual vibe to it. The breeze from the ocean was always warm, soft and regenerating.
Before I left, I decided to walk their outdoor Labyrinth to meditate on a concern I had about Beau* and the direction of our relationship. I found myself growing suspicious of him. Though we talked twice a day, something wasn’t right. Questions about him and about us flooded my brain and overwhelmed me. This is normal when you’re away from your man for so long, right? Before I entered the labyrinth, I took a deep breath and with the warm ocean breeze guiding my back, I meandered along its snakelike path. I recited the Holy Rosary a dozen times to quiet and focus my anxious mind. Within 30 minutes, I reached the end and gained clarity but not comfort.
Edgar Cayce was quoted as saying, “You are your own best psychic.” As a very intuitive person, I understood. However, it didn’t stop me from seeking out the services of a psychic reader affiliated with A.R.E. I was second guessing myself and needed confirmation that there was, indeed, a sword hanging over my head.
I met Gwen* at her office across town. She invited me to have a seat in an armchair angled closely towards hers. She had a pen, pad and pendulum ready. I asked her if it was okay to record our session and she was fine with it. I took out my phone and activated the voice recorder app. She asked to hold something that belonged to me. I handed her my keys. I decided to refrain from volunteering any information during my reading and save my specific concerns for last.
It’s understood that no psychic is 100% accurate, but the things Gwen picked up about me were on point. I asked her about my soul’s purpose (a question A.R.E recommends readees ask). “To bring joy wherever you go… wherever you are planted. It doesn’t matter if you’re at your job, at home, or just out gettin’ a burger that’s what you do.” She said with a husky Southern drawl. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not. Whenever you enter a situation or room, the energy just lifts…. People respond to you.” No, I haven’t noticed this… I was puzzled because most of the time, I’m rather low-key. Then I remembered strangers and random people I’ve met over the years making a point to tell me the same thing, that I have a “good spirit” or they felt really good being around me. I’ll take it!
I asked her about my family. “You get picked on a lot.” She said plainly. I surrendered to the fact that she wasn’t speaking in the past tense. “That’s right, I’m the scapegoat.” I confirmed. She continued, “The reason you’re the scapegoat is because of that special energy you carry.” “Really?”, I was surprised. “Seriously. I’m from the smoky mountains of east Tennessee. We had chickens running free in the yard during the day. What amazed me was that there would always be one chicken that would stray farther out in the garden than the others. She was probably looking for juicier worms somewhere else. The rest of the chickens would attack and peck her because they considered her different! You’re different. They perceive you as weak, when you’re actually very highly evolved… and tough. They can’t see that, so they turn on you.” She explained. Gwen went on to say that in the last couple of months, my “perceptions” have been getting stronger and stronger. This also struck me as true… This is the most spiritually intuitive I’ve ever been since I hit puberty. She advised me to continue listening to the Universe (i.e. God) when it speaks. As for my concerns about Beau*, she eased my mind by assuring that he deeply loved me.
Later that night, I touched base with my cousin, Mona and made plans to visit her the next day. I got a little lost finding her place, so she was waiting outside for me when I pulled up to her condo. Boy, was she was eager to meet Eunice! Mona is jovial, quick-witted, fiercely independent and boldly assertive… traits not uncommon for women on this side of the family. She’s also good-looking. With large, wide-set eyes, high, dimpled cheeks, and square jaw line, she has a resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter. Every time I see Helena Bonham Carter flash across the screen, I think of cousin Mona, her dark facsimile.
She rushed up to me and gave me a big hug. I happily gave her a nickel tour of my home. Mona’s daughter (a gifted violinist) was on a music tour in Europe with her college class. I was offered her room to stay in and made myself at home. When I was growing up, I would see Mona and my other cousin, Margene* (from Richmond) once a year. They have about 10 years on me, so I was never able to hang out with them as an equal. My aunt (who was the same age as them) would join them on local excursions and have all the fun instead. Sometimes, they’d take me along… but it wasn’t “big girl” fun!
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my cousin. Maybe, the last time I’ve seen her was at a funeral. We sat in her beautifully decorated living room and did a lot of catching up. We talked about our not so great marriages and life after our divorces. “The women in our family have no luck with marriage.” She said with a bluntness that was softened by the lilt of her Jamaican accent. “We’re just too hard-headed and strong-willed.” She continued. I didn’t want that to be true, but I nodded my head in agreement because maybe it was. I see myself as easygoing, having a softer temperament than most people I know and I don’t consider myself “a feminist”. However, I have come to recognize that there is something unyielding in me that cannot be dominated or compromised. Perhaps we are daughters of Lilith and not Eve.
My great grandmother had 11 children. With the exception of one, all of her daughters (including my grandmother) had tragically broken marriages or a string of unfortunate romances. The boy children, however, seemed to have escaped this curse with good wives and intact homes. But, maybe this is because these women were raised in a third world culture where parents treat female children far more harshly than males.
Mona made plans for us to visit my great aunt Gladis* in Hampton, 45 minutes away. We drove in her car and had a discussion about our family’s past and there were jokes and laughs sewn in between. We both hashed out old family secrets before moving on to share our disappointments. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt abandoned and betrayed by kin at my most vulnerable hour of need. For her, it was a life-threatening illness… myself, a divorce. I quickly realized that my experience wasn’t unique to just my immediate family. I was now able to stand back and see that all the dysfunction that I endured (even into adulthood) had little to do with me. My familial misfortunes were part of a much bigger problem! I found this both comforting and disturbing. Through faith in God, Mona was able to forgive all the wrongs. I, in contrast, remain less magnanimous.
We pulled up to our aunt’s house and she invited us inside. Her lovely mirrored living room looked exactly as I remembered it as a child! Strangely, it did not look or feel outdated. It was as if time moved on, but didn’t. After some catching up and joking around, we headed out to have lunch at a near by restaurant. Before we ate, Mona cued for us to pray grace. After seeing people publicly praying in restaurants everywhere, it was my turn!
We returned to Aunt Gladis’ house after lunch and retired to her youngest daughter’s bedroom, which was converted into a den. It was, in reality, the family museum. All of the walls were covered, top to bottom with framed photos of our clan, spanning six generations. I even spotted my own picture, a high school senior portrait!
Aunt Gladis gave me four old photo albums to look through. One of them had black and white pictures that were from the 1950’s and 60’s. It felt like I should be handling the pages wearing white cotton gloves. Most of the people in the album I didn’t recognize, but I did get a glimpse of Aunt Gladis’ life as a young nurse living in England. Roughly half of my large family immigrated to the UK since Jamaica was once under the British crown.
There was one photo of her standing outside her apartment building in a white, buttoned-up nursing uniform. She had perfectly styled curls, meticulously arched eyebrows and (what I could imagine to be) deep, crimson lips. It was evident that she had a certain maturity and poise that is rarely seen in young women nowadays. As I continued through the album, I managed to recognize some of my great uncles during the “Madmen days” whose dapper suits and youthful good looks nearly startled me!
Mona and I returned to Virginia Beach to relax for the rest of the evening. She offered me her washer and dryer to do my laundry and I gladly accepted. At the end of the night, I went to her daughter’s room to retire. Looking around, it was easy to tell that this room belongs to someone bright, cheery, and full of life… someone who was raised happy. She was in Europe living her dream, a dream that her mother lovingly supported since she was a young child. Destructive patterns of the past doesn’t have to control a family’s future. I have hope.
Side Note: My great grandma and grandma loved watching The 700 Club! In their honor, I went to a taping at CBN studios while I was in town. You can see more photos on my FaceBook page!
*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.
There’s now a Facebook page for my Gypsy Blog and all of you are invited to join! This will be the fastest, easiest way for readers and fellow gypsies to interact, converse and participate in all sorts of randomness… There’s also access to photos not posted on my blog!
P.S. I’m on Twitter, too!
It was already the last week of June and I finally started to feel the heat of summer as I drove down the interstate into Virginia. I stopped at the welcome center to stretch my legs and browsed the tourist pamphlets. I’ve been to Virginia several times before because I have some relatives that I visited throughout my childhood. Though, the patriot in me was excited to experience reenactments pertaining to the American Revolution at Colonial Williamsburg, I came to Virginia mainly to see my cousins and great aunt. Since my cousin in Richmond was still on her trip (world travel is her hobby) and the other was way down in Virginia Beach, Williamsburg was slated as the first stop.
The sun was going down when I reached my destination at Walmart. To my delight, it was close to all the gypsy friendly amenities needed, including gyms! The idea of sponge bathing no longer appealed to me; I had grown spoiled. Since truck stop showers can easily add up to a big expense, my strategy for grooming was to find gyms with decent facilities and a free trail period. I limited my search to local gyms only and avoided large national chains since I haven’t yet decided which one to join. I chose American Family Fitness because their facilities were very impressive, rivaling L.A. Fitness.
How does one sign up for a temporary pass without a local address or any intention to stay in town? The answer is to simply have a good story as any novice grifter would! My story was that I recently moved to the area and currently living with a relative until I find a job and my own place. This explains why I still have a Connecticut driver’s license and no place of employment. I found the closest apartment complex and committed the street address to memory in order to fill out the visitor form and engage in any “small talk” if asked about where I live. Was this honest? No, but my showers were free, clean and accessible. Hopefully, plugging them in this post will tip my Karmic scale back to a favorable balance.
I took a day to drive around Williamsburg and it’s a very beautiful place. All the buildings I drove past were newly constructed and well built. It was as if most of the town was created as a planned community. The people weren’t as friendly and open like the people in Baltimore or Lancaster, but they had a pleasant and welcoming vibe, which was enough for me. The evenings were comfortably warm with a comforting, caressing breeze. I took half a business day and reserved a two-day pass to visit Colonial Williamsburg for the next day.
I made an effort to arrive early in the morning, since there were a lot of things to do and see. After I picked up my pass (which was to be worn during my visit), I stopped to look at a scale model of the grounds, which was overwhelmingly huge. I was glad that I opted to visit for two days instead of just one! I glanced at my map/schedule and checked off all the available activities I wanted to do. There was an orientation film, Williamsburg: the story of a Patriot that was starting in the visitor center theater in just a few minutes. It was shot in the late 1950’s, starring a young and handsome Jack Lord. The story was about Virginia’s role in America’s independence. Though the film was dated (longest-running motion picture in history), it primed me for the experience of going back in history.
I left the theater and crossed over the bridge onto the Colonial grounds. It was like stepping into another time. There were townspeople in character of every social station of that age, ready to casually interact with visitors at their post or shoppe. I visited farmers, local tradesmen, homes of nobility, and took a tour of the lavish Governor’s Palace. Then, I popped into the gunsmith’s shop to see how guns, bullets and silverware were made. The blacksmith demonstrated how he keeps the fire hot enough for melting iron. His wife showed me her collection of molds for spoons, pots, and bullets. Afterwards, I went to the town’s theater and watched a short period comedy and gained insight into the culture of the performing arts during that period. A tour of the courthouse was open and I witnessed three very entertaining mock trails with some of the visitors playing the role of defendant and plaintiff! It was all done in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner, but you left with an understanding of how everyday disputes were settled.
The event I wanted to see most and above ALL was the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment, where a founding father performs a speech and interacts with the audience. Washington, Jefferson, or maybe it will be Benjamin Franklin? It is not known which forefather will arrive or what he would say. Being what one would call a rabid “Constitutionalist”, I was thoroughly intrigued! However, my schedule for the day was already full, so I decided I would save the talk for the next day, which started late afternoon. There was just so much to do and learn; it was nearly overwhelming! I began to have a strong sense of how we, as a people, worked together as a community to sow the revolutionary seeds of our nation. I am proud to be an American.
Being in such an immersive environment can be an enriching and positive experience. However, I found that engaging, enriching experiences also cut the other way. The next morning, I attended an inspiring reenactment of the public reading of The Declaration of Independence. Afterwards, I looked at my activity sheet and decided to take The Life of a Slave tour. On the itinerary, it had a disclaimer that it was not suitable for small children. “Curious.” I thought to myself. Though the slavery of my ancestors was endured in the West Indies and not in America, as a black person, I was compelled to check it out. Right after this was scheduled to end, it would be time for the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment… Perfect! It wouldn’t start for a few hours, so I decided to attend some vaguely named short play that was about to start on an outdoor stage. I had no idea what it was going to be about.
As the time drew near, people gathered on benches around the plain wooden stage under a sparse canopy of trees. I sat in the front row. Just as everyone settled in, out of nowhere, a rough looking white man in a wide hat and dirty white shirt, holding a rifle carried a young black woman by the arm onto the stage. She wore a nice yet plain blue housedress covered by an apron… she was a house slave. He takes her to her place and disdainfully unhands her before turning to leave. “‘Scuse me, Sir! When will my babies be commin’ here to be with me?” she desperately asks him with a slave accent. “Soon.” the overseer says flatly and leaves.
Three other slaves, a woman and two men, whom she knows, are also brought on stage. It’s apparent that they are in a holding cell to be sold on the auction block, off their plantation. The mother’s two young boys will soon be joining her in the cell, also be sold. Her friend, the other female slave, tries to ease her mind that there is hope someone would buy all three of them together and not break up her family. The mother is still deathly frightened.
One of the male slaves, possessing a rebellious spirit, discouraged the soothsaying between the women and told the mother to accept the reality of what is about to take place… her children would most likely be sold away from her. The friend starts to see his point of view. She looks into the mother’s eyes and calmly says, “When your children get here, you have to talk to them. I know it’s gonna be hard, but you got to let them know what’s gonna happen.” To which the mother cries, “All they know is this plantation! All they know is me…” her voice trails off. I saw the anguish streak across her face. “I know, but you got to be strong for your boys. You’re gonna have to tell them calm and then say your good byes. Have faith in God.” The friend advises.
The rebellious slave turns his attention to the other male in the cell and picks a fight with him because he failed to hold up his end of the bargain in an escape plot the night before, resulting in both of them being captured and put up for auction. Just as the two men’s quarrel was about to reach the boiling point, the overseer returns. He’s accompanied by his armed second to assist him in handling the slaves. “All of y’all! It’s time to go!” the overseer barks. Everyone lines up except the mother. She jumps up, rushes to the front and asks him, “My babies… where are my babies?” The overseer (annoyed and impatient) says, “What? We done sold them already!” The mother gasps. Struck down by shock and loss, she faints, causing her body to fall forward towards the overseer. “Get up off of me!” he yells in disgust and pushes her away with his arm. She tumbles off the stage, rolls on the grass and lands just inches from my feet. Part of her dress rode up, exposing the bottom of her bloomers. Her friend comes to her aid and helps her up as she sobs into her breast.
Everyone is lead out of the cell to their awaiting fate, in the distance no longer be seen. The plain wooden stage is left bare. No formal closing, the play had ended as abruptly as it had started. The audience fell silent and remained seated in bewilderment, trying to absorb what they have just witnessed. I was left broken and wept.
After I collected myself, I roamed around Revolutionary City in a daze. I visited some shops, but didn’t buy anything. The time was getting close for my slave tour. It was across the city and I didn’t want to walk, so I decided to use the free shuttle service. I met a middle-aged black couple with their teenagers while waiting at the shuttle stop. I’ve seen them around the day before. We nodded at each other in acknowledgment as we passed by on a wooded path… as if we were in a secret club. The same thing happens whenever I pass by another person with dreadlocks. I wonder if white people do the same thing.
We struck up a conversation, telling the couple about the play I had just seen and the powerful impact it had. “Nah, I’m not going to see that! I’m not going to work myself up and get angry around here!” the husband said in a half joking tone. But, I knew he was serious at his core. I couldn’t blame him for passing on such an emotionally raw exhibition. I know, first hand, that the line between making peace with the past and being completely consumed with rage is a broken fence.
I made it just in time for the slave tour. A group of people sat in an enclosed area under a tree. There was a slave woman at the gate and I had shown her my pass to join the others. Looking around, I saw that it was a diverse group of people, both black and white families of varying ages and classes. The benches we sat on were nothing more than logs on the ground in a circle formation. In the center of that circle was a tall and robust field hand who was slowly pacing around and waiting for any remaining stragglers to arrive. By his side, were a few tree stumps with a stack of papers and curious artifacts on top of them. We waited patiently for his presentation to start.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!” he said looking around his audience. “I’m a an African-American historian and I’m here to give you a glimpse into the everyday life of American slaves.” He continued. The field hand’s casual yet commanding presence had everyone perked up in their seat. “It’s good that you’re all enjoying your time here at Colonial Williamsburg and experiencing some patriotic pride in our American heritage.” Was he reading my mind? He went on, “All of that is important, but there is another side to this story and that is slavery.” He continued with his presentation, passing around copies of wanted posters for runaway slaves and Victorian photos of people with whip-scared backs. Afterwards he passed around replicas of black iron tools used to keep people in bondage: shackles, locks, and spiked neck collars… used to “break” the most willful of Negroes. The replicas were heavy, cold, and dreadful to hold in my hands.
Afterwards, he went on to explain the next segment of his presentation, “We will now begin the tour. This will be a hands-on type of thing… How it was like to be a slave. When slaves were called to work early in the morning, they weren’t treated with any type of respect. They weren’t spoken to nicely. It’s time to head out to work in the tobacco fields.” Then something in the air quickly shifted. “Now, git up… I says, GIT UP!” he shouted as the shackles made a clanking noise in his hand. We were startled and all glanced at each other before quickly raising to our feet.
The field hand walked us out to the tobacco fields. He assigned each of us a plant and ordered us to inspect under each leaf for any insects and eggs. Whatever was found, we were to grind them up between our fingers. This was very important because they could destroy the leaves and each leaf was money for the master. We had to be very careful not to break a leaf because that would warrant a whipping. The same if the overseer checked our work and saw any bugs or eggs left behind. Since the plants were short, we had to bend over to do our job… after a few minutes, it started to get very uncomfortable for my thighs and back. And then it started to rain! Everyone started to straighten up, intending to leave and take cover somewhere. “Keep working! Slaves don’t get to sit out from the rain!” he ordered sternly. We did what he said and kept tending to the tobacco… in the rain. This went on for only fifteen or twenty minutes, but it felt much longer. I couldn’t do this all day, everyday. I just couldn’t.
When we were done, he told us how Thomas Jefferson had a tobacco farm just like this one. He went on to explain that Jefferson wrote in his journal that he had some profitable years and some lean years in selling his crops. He bragged that whenever he had a lean year, he would easily recover his business losses by simply selling off one or two of his female slaves at a handsome profit. We all just stood there, silent.
The field hand finally took us to the slave house, where slaves slept. It seemed like a nice enough little cottage, until we were told that it usually housed up to 15 slaves! He explained that it was usual for overseers to lock them all in at night so they wouldn’t escape or take revenge on their masters at the big house.
Sexual exploitation of female slaves by overseers and masters were a common thing. I asked him where did these atrocious occurrences usually take place since there was no privacy in the house. He explained that it was not uncommon for these rapes to be committed in the presence of other slaves in the house, including the children. This was the fact from the tour that I have found most disturbing.
Everything came to a close and he shared some things for us to put in perspective. “Our forefathers, though noble, were what we call today the 1%. If you lived back then, chances are they wouldn’t even talk to you. The average white during the revolutionary period was illiterate, working-class, and just a step or two above a slave. They didn’t have a voice to rise up, either. They were too busy trying to keep their six or seven children fed. It’s about money!” he casually declared. “The establishment found ways to keep both whites and blacks slaves in the South, into the 1950′s. That’s what systems like sharecropping and Company stores were all about!” Older people in the group (who may have remembered these times) nodded in agreement. Understanding that most Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck and enslaved by debt, the past still rings true today.
In closing he continued, “Have pride in your country and honor our forefathers for the good that they have done, but never forget the truth and the contributions made by the slaves and others who have toiled and suffered. If not for them, these men wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. Black or white, know that you are descendants of survivors… they were some tough people!”
Afterwards, most of the people approached him to shake his hand in gratitude and to ask more questions. Participating in this tour, we were broken down and built up again with a new perspective. For reasons one may have deduced, I was no longer in the mood to attend the Meeting with a Forefather presentation and left… with my patriotism still intact, less my idealism.
It was late at night when I reached Baltimore. I pulled into a Travel Center America truck stop and went inside for dinner at Iron Skillet. I’ve been to Baltimore once, when I was twelve. My family was traveling back home from Florida when my mother got tired and we stopped at an Econolodge. I remember getting a decent night view of the city from the highway before getting off the exit. There was an outline of dark, sinister looking towers spewing stacks of smoke. It reminded me of the city of OZ… if the Wicked Witch had won. It felt depressing. When I walked into Iron Skillet, the old feelings somehow all came back.
The restaurant was a frozen snapshot of the late 1980’s with light maple wood booths and drab brown carpeting. Maybe it wasn’t so much the decor that was 1980s , but how the place made me feel. That decade was the most hopelessly melancholy time in my life and standing there, at the entrance waiting to be seated, transported me back. “Take any seat you want, Honey.” A worn out looking black waitress motioned to me before heading to a table. My impulse was to turn around and walk out, but my curiosity about this restaurant chain (spotted too many of their billboards) made me choose a two-person booth by the kitchen.
I scanned the room and noticed that almost all the patrons were truckers. Most of them looked the part: late side of middle-age, bearded, tattooed and rough-necked. A few were young, but still rough looking around the edges. You have to start somewhere. The only other female dining was a young woman seated by the counter near me. She was “made-up” yet not put together. She was noticeably a little too skinny. I think she was a prostitute. She was pleasantly boisterous and chatting with the truckers at the counter, perhaps to draw attention for business.
My waitress came by after making her rounds and I ordered a fried chicken dinner. A fight between two unseen waitresses burst out in the kitchen. At first, it seemed like it would be only be a brief disturbance like the startling screech of a car in the distance. Instead, the quarrel continued to roll forward uncomfortably like two alley cats trying to kill each other. “Yo, this is the most JACKED up TA Center I ever been to!” blurted out one of the truckers in a long Midwestern drawl. The other men around him chuckled in agreement. A few of the other waitresses walking around stopped intermittently to gossip about what brought these two women to the boiling point. “When the manager finds out about this, she’s fired!” one the waitresses blurted. “She’s young.” The other said in defense. “She’s unprofessional!” the first waitress replied. Usually, when witnessing this type of drama, I try to piece together a whole scenario in my head. Tonight, I was just hoping they weren’t in the back spitting and yelling all over my food! Either way, it was all well because my chicken was dry, stringy and overcooked. I barely touched it… and almost didn’t touch my $15 check, either!
I left and thought about my game plan for the night, forcing the pleasant dining experience out of my mind. It was SHOWER TIME! It’s been a week and I haven’t taken a shower since I left Connecticut. I don’t use my camper’s shower because it’s cramped and you’d have to awkwardly sit down to use it. Instead, I’d take what I like to call a “deep clean” sponge bath, a technique I developed to get me between showers in hot weather without feeling and smelling gross. I may cover more about this technique in another “good grooming” post.
I went to the front desk of the travel center and rented a public shower. I never rented one before, so when the cashier just gave me a receipt and walked away, I was confused. An older black trucker wearing a red football jersey came to my side and asked if I needed help. “This is what you do…” He said with a deep smoky voice. “This here, on your receipt is your shower number and you look on that monitor up there to see if your shower’s ready. When you get to your shower, punch in this other number; that’s your key code for the door. See there, your shower’s ready!” I thanked him and went on my way. When I got to my shower down the hall, I braced myself for whatever would be on the other end of the door. I was pleasantly surprised that my shower was like a nice motel room… without the bedroom area! It had a Corian counter sink, large American Standard toilet, a walk-in shower with top to bottom ceramic tiles and new chrome fixtures. The only offense was the stack of old bright orange towels folded on a bench. It had a paper wrapped bar of hotel soap resting on top of it. I was thankful that I brought my own towel in with me. My shower was long, hot and satisfying. I was grateful.
The next day, I decided to take a business day at McDonalds. Wherever you are, there’s always a McDonalds near by. I chose to center my stay around paying homage to one of my favorite underground film directors, John Waters. Baltimore was not only his hometown, but it also served as the backdrop to most of his films! Desperate Living, Polyester, Cry Baby, and Hairspray are top on my list of cinematic guilty pleasures. There had to be attractions in town with connections to him. With the help of Google, I managed to flesh out a decent three-day itinerary.
I was typing away at my computer when an elderly couple approached my table and started a conversation. They were curious about Eunice. “That’s a small RV… is it fully self-contained?” the husband asked. His better half asked me about safety issues, but I assured her that I didn’t travel in fear. “My wife and I had a big travel trailer years ago and traveled a lot. But we had to get rid of it. It became too much of a bother now that we’re old” he said in an easy, playful tone. “Something like your camper seems easy to care for. We could still travel in that. How much does it cost?” he continued. After I told him, I went on to tell him how he could find campers like mine on Craig’s list and other resources. I noticed as I was speaking that his gaze shifted and he looked a little uncomfortable. I realized that he wasn’t really interested in buying a camper, but just wanted conversation for the sake of it. I looked around and other strangers were casually talking and joking around with each other… Baltimore people sure are friendly!
When my business day came to a close, I did a little exploring. The city has a vibe I could only describe as depressing. I went to the grocery store to pick up some snacks and then picked up some overpriced Chinese take-out. I noticed that most of the people I observed around me (both black and white) looked rough. Sullen expressions, worn clothes, and bad tattoos; the average person seemed to only be a half step above a drug addict in appearance. Not that I’m all that snazzy myself! Paradoxically, these people were amazingly open and friendly when casually interacting with each other. Their bright and sunny inside didn’t match what was presented to the world outside… It was perplexing to make sense of it.
The next day, less than 48 hours of being in Baltimore, I started feeling… depressed. The dour vibe in the air, the aesthetically challenged streets, and seemingly defeated people all around me weighed down on my spirit like a heavy blanket. My only consolation was speaking with Beau on the phone. For my safety, we agreed to speak twice a day, once in the morning and once when I turn in for the night. Now, I was looking forward to his calls more than ever. Hearing his voice raised my mood, but the darkness still lingered. There was no way I could stay in Baltimore for most of the week. I felt conflicted about leaving earlier than planned. I felt like I was quitting something. Nevertheless, I decided I would leave the next day right after visiting some of the choice sights I had on my schedule.
I got up early and looked over my list of attractions, which were all ordered by proximity to each other to save gas. First would be Killer Trash, a trendy thrift store that has provided the wardrobe to many of John Waters’ films. Following that, the American Visionary Art Museum, which exhibits outsider art created mainly by self-taught artist who are bipolar, schizophrenic or disabled. Its centerpiece is a 10-foot statue of Divine, the late drag queen icon who starred in several of Waters’ earlier films. Afterwards, a quick breeze-through the Baltimore Tattoo Museum. Finally, I’d visit Edgar Allen Poe’s grave… just for the heck of it! Most of my stops were located downtown and I figured my travel time wouldn’t take long.
I punched in the first location into my navigation system and placed it snuggly in the beverage holder. When I entered downtown, I was pleasantly surprised at its urban quaintness. With mid-sized buildings mixed with historical sites, and traveling packs of business people who take themselves too seriously, it could easily pass for Hartford’s twin! I reached Killer Trash and found a great parking spot a half block away. When I approached the store I could see brightly colored trinkets and other curious finds displayed in the window. I was eager to see what was inside, but when I got to the door, I discovered the shop was closed! They open at noon and it was only 9AM. It was a wrench in my tight schedule, I figured. I’d remedy the situation by going to my next stop, the museum and simply swing back to the store later. I hopped back into my van, punched in a new address and headed to my next destination. “Turn left onto Lafayette”, the navigation instructed. I turn onto Lafayette and all the other streets she told me to… until I realized she sent me in a circle! I went off route, to have her recalculate, but that only made her more confused. She’d tell me to turn on streets that weren’t there and the streets that were there, she’d change the route on me when I got there. At one point, during an erratic route change, a work truck passing my van almost swiped me! It’s not fun to be lost while driving your home through congested traffic.
My navigation system is new and up until this point, had always been reliable. I couldn’t understand what was going on since the buildings weren’t that tall to interfere with the GPS system. My chest felt tight, my face became hot and my temper finally spun out. “F*ck this! I’ll go to Poe’s grave.” I grunted under my breath. I punched in the address during a red light, figuring it would take me straight there since this site was outside of the downtown area… But the same thing happened again! By this time, I was fed up and gave up! I put in my next destination, Williamsburg, Virginia. As if by divine intervention, my navigation took me straight out of there without a problem. Baltimore! Oh, Baltimore… How I wanted to love you.
SIDE NOTE: I’m in still in Oklahoma. The above events happened during the Summer. I’m catching up… More to come!
It was a short year ago that I started this blog with the goal of simplifying my life, getting an RV, and living a nomadic lifestyle! I had no idea how it was going to happen but I knew that I had to take the first step. Writing was that first step. I want to THANK YOU, my readers for supporting my blog and giving me the focus I needed to start my journey!
I’m writing you from Oklahoma (thus far, my favorite state) and it is BEAUTIFUL here! This summer has been (and continues to be) a life changing experience. Though, I have been enjoying my freedom and cultural excursions, it hasn’t been without it’s challenges. Also, I’m terribly behind on my writing. I quickly realized that distraction can be one of the perils of Gypsy Life! Time to settle down a bit and get back to work. Perhaps, I need a boss… a boss like this!
Parking at Night in My Camper Van