West Ginny

1011319_4745883535406_1532815183_n[1] I made it to the mountains of West Virginia mid afternoon. There were short bursts of light rain that gave way to warm rays of sunlight which made the lush green hills surrounding me more vibrant. Though the scenery was strikingly beautiful, I have never driven on a road quite like this one. The highway felt like it was touching the sky and it was long and winding. Before every turn, it was hard to predict if I would be going on a steep incline or steep decline. I managed to keep my fear in check. Glancing at the fine mist rising over the hills reminded me to relax and focus. 1010019_4746722476379_1707135852_n[1] 8661_4745881695360_367800864_n[1] . 1016040_4746726076469_1623456976_n[1] After a few hours of driving, the hills finally gave way to a small town. I parked Eunice and took a look around. There were several mom & pop stores on the main road, modest homes scattered in the hills, off in the distance and a train going through the center of it all… slowly carrying heaps of coal! I stopped to look at at the endless piles of black rocks.  That’s the stuff that has built our country. It’s something I don’t get to see everyday. 1006255_4746733596657_730470140_n[1] I saw a billboard miles back advertising a Shoney’s Restaurant. I’ve always been curious about that chain so I decided to have an early dinner there. It was located by the tracks like everything else. Maybe, I’ll bump into an interesting coal miner to talk to. I walked into Shoneys and was promptly seated. Like many places I’ve been to before, it was a homogeneous crowd. The people were blue-collar and “down home”, what you would expect from a coal mining town. Even though I stuck out, I didn’t feel any eyes on me beyond a passing glance. The people seemed to be just minding their own business and enjoying their meals with friends and loved ones. My waitress quickly came to the table to take my order. I opted for the buffet and got right back up again. When I got to the buffet to fill up a plate, I was pleased with the country-styled selections offered. It was similar to Home Town Buffet, so, I was happy!

As I was piling up with fried chicken and mashed potatoes, one of the young, aproned attendants came out from the kitchen to replace a few entrees that were running low. He was slender, attractive, and mildly effeminate in his bearing. He looked at me with a warm smile and I politely reciprocated before looking at other savory dishes to cover my plate. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was still looking at me. “How often do you retwist your dreadlocks?” he asked. Puzzled, I stopped what I was doing to take a good look at him. “Once a month” I replied. “They look really pretty!” By this time, he was wiping down the counters. I asked him how did he know about my kind of hair. “I know about dreadlocks, braids, relaxers… I go to cosmetology school when I’m not here.” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. I was impressed… I told him how awesome it was that I came to the middle of West Virginia and bumped into a random white guy who has an interest in black hair care. I could only assume that he will not be staying in this town forever.

After my meal, I hopped back in Eunice and drove to the other side of the state to reach my destination, Point Pleasant… home of the legendary Mothman. It was late in the evening when I got there. Tired from a full day of driving, I checked my navigation system and opted to set up camp in Gallipolis, Ohio, right on the other side of the Ohio river, where they had a Walmart.

When I woke up the next morning, I took out my phone and searched for gyms with a shower that I could grift. There was not a one! I couldn’t say that I was surprised, because though Gallipolis and Point Pleasant were both nice and quaint, they were out of many things that other places have spoiled me with, like free hygiene. I started to search for creative alternatives and found that there was a community pool with showers that would only cost me five dollars for a daily pass.

When I got there, I found that the showers had no stalls or dividers, just clusters of plain, energy efficient shower heads like my old middle school locker room. There was a campground with showers, but the manager wasn’t home, only her killer Chihuahua who growled and followed me around the grounds. Three strikes! I didn’t think I would have to go back to taking sponge baths in my van again, but it would have to do. My only consolation was taking perverse humor in being a naked lady on Main Street in the middle of the day… and nobody knew!

Spot the naked lady!

Spot the naked lady!

After grooming, I decided to step out and check out the little shops of Point Pleasant. Main Street had an all-American look and feel, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was lined with prewar brick buildings that housed antique shops and discount boutique stores with walk up apartments on the top floor. I even saw an American flag or two hung outside… and it wasn’t even July! Then I came upon my main attraction, the Mothman Museum. 1003996_4755260049813_1841364084_n[1]   480910_4755263409897_1960542977_n[1] 944179_4755531856608_1531632162_n[1] 1010695_4755533416647_807112829_n[1] The Mothman, by local accounts, is a creepy, supernatural creature with a tall, menacing moth-like body and large, glowing red eyes who haunts the area from time to time. People have seen him flying and making high pitched screeches, striking terror in those he chooses to encounter. The Mothman has been linked to several bizarre happenings; most notably, the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 where 46 people lost their lives. I first learned of the Mothman upon the release of The Mothman Prophecies film in 2002, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Of course, as with any Hollywood movie based on true events, there was a flood of articles, cable shows, and entertainment news segments saturating the media to pique people’s interest in the film and the folklore. Mission accomplished.

When I went into the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was like walking into a cool, hole-in-the-wall memorabilia store on Newbury Street in Boston. The atmosphere was quirky, fun and casual just like the patrons who took time from their travels to make the visit. The museum didn’t take itself too seriously and there was a statue of the Mothman hanging overhead to greet all who entered.

All around, there were countless of eerie artifacts, drawings, newspaper clippings, and even props and costumes from the movie. In the back, there was a dark room where you could sit down and watch an hour-long documentary about the Mothman that played on a continuous loop. And of course, tee-shirts were available to buy as a souvenir. By the front counter, there were two maps displayed that encouraged patrons to pincushion where they traveled from… I was amused to see that people people had come from ALL OVER the world! Weird stories reach far. 942349_4755272170116_624564377_n[1] 1016181_4755275490199_657750767_n[1] 1013728_4755299890809_819151960_n[1] 942341_4755278930285_823713071_n[1] 1017388_4755291290594_1925425861_n[1]

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Film costumes and props

Backroom documentary screenings

Backroom documentary screenings

Questions will always linger about who or what the Mothman is. There are several paranormal theories. Could he be an extraterrestrial, a ghost, a demon, or something that simply materialized because enough people started believing in him? Does it matter? Since there’s a sizable body count attributed to this entity, I say it’s best to leave it behind as a mystery and simply pray for God’s protection from things such as this!

I spent the next few days darting back and forth between Point Pleasant and Gallipollis. Apart from hanging out at McDonalds to people watch and go online, there really wasn’t that much to do. My only source of excitement was the uneasy feeling I’d get from driving over the Ohio River bridge and then making it safely to the other side. For the first time in my travels, I started to feel restless and bored and decided it was time to quickly move on. It was a bright Sunday afternoon and I figured a dash to the nearest city was what I needed. I couldn’t get on the highway to Dayton fast enough! My impulse was to floor the gas pedal, but I stuck to my rule of never going over 55-65 mph with Eunice. And it was a good thing, too.

1016162_4755538656778_366087335_n[1]

Over the Ohio

  Five minutes into my drive, I smelled a very foul odor in the air and wondered if there was a sewage treatment plant nearby. Seconds later, I heard a loud POP and my van suddenly dropped and tilted to one side. My tire blew out. I was able to maintain control and quickly pulled over to the emergency lane. I got out and took a look around my camper. My left, rear tire was half way stripped and the flapping rubber violently cracked my sewer valve and hit the sewer cap clean off. Not that you could call it clean. The sewer I had smelled was my own… and it trailed all down the highway!

I couldn’t believe my luck. It was like something in this town was keeping me from leaving. Of all the tires to blow out, it had to be that one! Of all the times during my travels that this could have happened, it had to be now! Seriously?!

Sidenote: I learned from experts that tires can blow out at any time even ones that are in good condition!  I had mine inspected before hitting the road and it still happened to me.  Never speed with your camper van or RV because it’s heavy and you need to be able to keep control if something unpredictable happens.  Never risk an accident.  For the other person involved, it will be just his car that’s out of commission; for you, it will be your home!  Be safe fellow gypsies!

Season II: Richmond

Carytown_Shopping-e1295830241230

Carytown Shops

I left Virginia beach and headed back north to Richmond to see my cousin, Margene*, who was finally back from vacation. I regretted not planning my trip at this point more carefully because there was a political rally in Washington D.C. that I would have loved to be a part of. However, seeing Margene was enough, as I haven’t seen her since I was a married woman.

Margene, like Mona, was a part of the “Big Girl” set, having fun at things I couldn’t when I was very young and I admired her for it. Little has changed. One could call her a jetsetter as she’s always taking time off for adventurous excursions in exotic locations all over the globe. Being a successful, freelance project manager affords her that. Single, free and having both disposable time and income, she is a gypsy in her own right!

I vaguely remember a conversation we had over a decade ago, months before I met my ex husband. She had left teaching in the public school system and was doing very well in her new career. Her salary impressed me and I announced, “If I ever make $85,000 a year, I’m NOT getting married!” and I think I meant it. Being independent, free-spirited with money to burn, why risk ruining a good thing, knowing my family’s track record with men? Margene is golden and in a lot of ways, I still want to be like her.

When I finally got into Richmond, I stopped at McDonalds and texted Margene to meet me so I could follow her back to her house without getting lost. I was sitting in Eunice when she pulled up in a black luxury sedan. Like me, she was a second generation American. With her large, inquisitive dark eyes, keen features, and honey brown skin, no one can argue that she’s not beautiful. Relatives would comment that we shared a strong resemblance as children, but that was a very long time ago. She was a top cheerleader in high school and college (with the trophies to prove it) and from what I could tell from family photos, she was always surrounded by lots of friends. That’s no surprise since she also speaks and carries herself with a sassy kind of confidence. Dare I say she’s a Southern belle? And though her 20’s and 30’s are behind her, she still does not want for male attention.

I jumped out and gave her a big hug. When we reached her home, I noticed it was large and nicely decorated. It was hard for me to imagine that she could live in a place this size by herself. Then again, I’ve gotten to the point in van dwelling where I feel agoraphobic staying in hotel rooms!

When I got settled at her home, we got caught up with our lives and preliminary “family stuff”. I was thankful she didn’t ask for details about my decision to disown my mother, sister, and aunt five years ago… not that family spitefully taking your ex husband’s side in an ugly divorce needs much of an explanation.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you look so much like your Auntie!” Margene said with her sweet southern drawl. I felt it sharp in my gut, but she was right and I look a lot like my mother, too. Gypsy or not, you take yourself wherever you go.  I’m reminded of that every time I see a photo of myself or catch my reflection from the wrong angle. Despite these occasional unpleasant reminders, somehow, I still manage to be content with my looks.

We enjoyed having some girl talk before turning in for the night and the subject fell on commitment. Margene told me plainly that she doesn’t want it and is happy with her life as is. There are many women who say this to fool themselves into being content with being single past a certain age. I didn’t sense this in Margene. She truly values her freedom. She does have her suitors and that’s what they will remain.

Maybe she could sense in me that I’m the type of gal who needs the physical and emotional security of a man. Though, I enjoy my time alone, I dislike being single. Perhaps, I would’ve felt differently if I took my career life more seriously in my youth.
The few days I had spent with Margene was fun! It was my first time hanging out with her as an adult. Her car sailed smoothly down the highway, which felt strange since I’ve gotten used to Eunice’s gentle rocking. She took me to Carytown, a quaint burrow of Richmond with cute, little boutiques and upscale shops.

We had a leisurely walk in the hot Virginia sun, weaving in and out any clothing or body care shops that struck our fancy. Towards the end of our stroll, we stopped at a cupcake cake shop to rest and indulge. In the evening, we took in a $1.99 second-run movie at the Byrde Theater, an absolutely gorgeous art deco venue with sumptuous, gilded details of a bygone era. We decided on watching 42: The Jackie Robinson Story. It turned out to be an excellent, inspirational film that I highly recommend.

Byrd Theater

Byrd Theater

The next day, we drove around Richmond proper, deciding on a place to eat. Margene asked what I was in the mood for. “Asian.” I said immediately. This is my answer eight times out of ten when asked such a question. We stopped at a place called Beauregard’s Thai Room. It was in a stately red brick townhouse with a black cast iron gated courtyard that was artfully lined with lush greenery.

When we walked up to the building, the owner was watering large potted plants with a hose. They weren’t open yet but he courteously unlocked the door and let us in to sit. He asked if we wanted to be seated in the courtyard, but we opted to avoid the unusually cool weather and chose a table by the window instead.

We had arrived so early, the waitresses were still trickling in to start their shifts!  I wasn’t sure if the cook was in the kitchen yet. We perused the menu anyway. I ordered chicken pad see-ew and Margene decided on pad thai. Surprisingly, the food came quickly. I wonder if the owner had cooked our dishes himself. We caught up on more family happenings over our meal.

The waitress came to our table to refill our glasses of water and quietly placed the check on the table. I was happy to see that Margene didn’t notice. When my cousin left to use the restroom, I seized the opportunity to pay for the check. It was the right thing to do. She paid for everything since I had arrived and she had made me a delicious breakfast on top of that! I quickly took my debit card out of my purse, motioned the waitress to come over and handed it to her. Right after she disappeared to the front of the restaurant, Margene came back and we continued our conversation.  Perfect!   Moments later the waitress came back with an awkward smile. “Sorry Ma’am… Your card did not go through.” She said in a delicate voice, pressing through her thick accent. She handed the card to me. “I tried doing it three times.” She explained.

“Bloody Hell!” I thought to myself. I was so embarrassed that I felt my throat closing in and my face flushed with heat. I looked over to my cousin, “I know I had money in there yesterday… I checked.” My weekly unemployment deposit had come in days ago, I was sure it was okay to make purchases. Without missing a beat, Margene handed the waitress her card without breaking eye contact with me. “That’s what ya get for tryin’ to be slick!” she smirked. “All these years when I went up north to visit your mother, I never had to pay for anything… and that’s how it is when you’re here with me.” She said. I thanked her and nodded in acceptance. “When you get settled in your place in Texas and I come to visit, you’ll have the chance to be just as hospitable.” She continued. “I hope she won’t mind staying in a wigwam in the middle of the prairie with Beau and me.” I thought to myself.

The next day, we visited one of Margene’s many good friends, Linda* for the afternoon. Like Margene, she was attractive, content, gainfully employed and lived very well. She was yet, another example that one could have a fulfilled life without a partner. Her home was also beautifully decorated and spacious. The marked difference between her and my cousin was that she had two beautiful daughters. Linda had prepared lunch and served us wine and drinks. We talked and laughed. I knew early on, it was going to be time well spent.

We, naturally, got on the subject of men. I shared with them how Beau, being the outdoorsman that he is, was fixing to make me a squirrel bikini. They burst out in laughter and disbelief! Is there an emotion to describe disgust and amusement?

Linda was getting into the dating game again and showed us her online profile on Match. She also showed us the profile of a good-looking, seemingly decent man who showed interest in her, but she was reluctant to proceed with him… he was white. Though she could objectively appreciate handsomeness in all races of men, she has trouble being attracted to Caucasian men sexually. My cousin also shares this preference (or lack thereof). However, a Hispanic or other man of color just may make the cut! Since I’ve “been over the fence” many times, I indulged them by describing the differences between dating white men and black men. And yes, I find that there is a difference… but that is a talk for another day!

The next morning, Margene was headed to work and I was headed to West Virginia. She bottled me some fresh juice from her juicer to take along with me and let me use her outside water spigot to fill my tank. I’ll most likely see her again in a couple of years.

Spending time with Margene was like peeking into what my life would’ve been like in an alternate universe. It’s best to choose what makes you happy at any given juncture in your life. And it’s important to accept that there will always be tradeoffs in one way or another. Who is to say that having a steady relationship or marriage is more of a personal accomplishment than being single? After all, it’s just as tricky to cultivate a tribe of good and trusted friends.

 

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Kin

By the Boardwalk

By the Boardwalk

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.

Edgar Cayce Portrait

Edgar Cayce Portrait

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.

Cayce's reading couch

Cayce’s reading couch

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

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.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

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 Monaher 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!

Gordon Robertson after taping

Gordon Robertson after taping

Original 700 Club set from the 1970's

Original 700 Club set from the 1970’s

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Baltimore! Oh, Baltimore…

Monseiur Waters

Monseiur Waters

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!

Dearest Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country was my destination right after leaving my friend’s show in Astoria, Queens.   I plowed through New Jersey and a good part of Pennsylvania until midnight, when I started to get tired.   I found a Waffle House where I decided to have a late night “dinner”.  There was a busy inn next door, so I discretely parked in their lot for the night.

The next morning, I finally made it into town.  Lancaster is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to!  Sprawling farms with bright green mounds of grass at almost every turn.  There were cows and finely bred horses basking in the pastures.  I visited this area once before, as a child, but there’s a difference between seeing it from a crowded chartered tour bus and your own RV.

I had set my navigation to a beacon location (any national chain that can offer free camping, wi-fi, or some other gypsy necessity), a Super Walmart to camp.  I was surprised that, their main roads were hectic and busy.  I guess that’s expected when you’re in the middle of a huge tourist destination.  The Amish community is the center of it.  They live on their farms, separate from the modern world, but you randomly see them as you move about town.  They are riding on their horse buggies along the roads, selling baked and handmade goods at stands on their property, I’ve even seen Amish men and women shopping at Walmart!

The Amish way of life is simple, full of contentment, and God-centered… and it shows!  I’ve noticed that when I am around Amish women, in particular, I sense what I can only describe as ”Purity of Presence”.  Plainly dressed, silent, and detached from everyone around them, I’m compelled to have a deep respect for them.  It’s almost like how I feel being around a nun (as someone who never attended Catholic school).

During my visit, I ate… a lot!  I went to the lunch buffet at Bird in Hand Restaurant, owned by the Smucker Family (distant relatives of the folks who make jam).  Their food, had traditional Dutch fare such as fried chicken, buttered noodles, apple dumplings and shoofly pie which was amazing.  Their meat, fish and produce all came from local farms and hatcheries, if not their own.  How did I know this?  My waitress, Leisa actually started a pleasant, full-length conversation with me!  Folks are genuinely friendly here.  Let me list what usually passes as friendly service where I’m from: 1. Saying “hello”. 2. Smiling (real or plastic).  3.  Refraining from spitting in your food.   I also, remember another waitress, Stacy at the second Waffle House I visited in Pennsylvania.  I was sitting at the counter and we had a conversation about the unexpected paths that God has us take in life.  It’s been two weeks now and I still remember their names and it’s not because I wrote them down somewhere.  In contrast, I can’t remember the names of any of the servers I’ve had in living in Connecticut.  Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a stranger about God either.

Speaking of God, I had noticed right away that the culture here skews religious.   Two DJ’s on the classic rock station casually quoted The Bible in a humorous conversation about an argument one of them had with a friend.   On the community board at Dunkin’ Donuts, there were a few business cards that included Bible passages as their tag line.  Some of you reading this may be puzzled about why I’m pointing this out, but I was raised in a place that is very much secular in spirit.

There were many good and free (and close to free) things to do in Lancaster.  I took a tour at Mascot Roller Mills and Ressler Family Home, a completely water-powered grain mill that was run by three generations of the Ressler family.  Though the mill is still fully functional, it’s preserved as a museum.  The tour started off with a ten minute video interview with the last Ressler to run the mill (who has passed on in the early 90’s).  During the tour, the guide turned the mill machines on and demonstrated how the grains were processed.  I’m embarrassed to say that before I had taken this tour, I had no understanding of how flour was made.  Now I can tell you the different processes of making whole wheat flour, white flour, pastry flour, and which part of the wheat plant makes bran, and wheat germ!

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Water-powered Mill

Next stop was the Mennonite information Center, where I took a guided tour of The Biblical Tabernacle, a beautifully designed reproduction of the tabernacle in the Old Testament.  A Baptist minister in Florida originally built the exhibit in the 1940’s.  The Mennonites later purchased it for public display and for students of Biblical and cultural studies.  The tour guide (who I can only guess is a minister) gave such a gentle, plain, and impassioned presentation, that some of the visitors (me included) were moved to tears.  What touched me the most was when she explained a common ritual practiced by the Hebrews exiled in the desert, outside the Tabernacle.  Once a year, they would pray all their sins unto an unblemished lamb before sacrificing it since only the shedding of blood could atone for wrong doings against God.  She went on to artfully weave this into the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ.  I was pleasantly surprised by poignancy of this experience.

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Tabernacle Replica

After the tour, I watch two short films in their screening room, “Who are the Amish?”, a documentary about the Amish way of life and “Postcards from a Heritage of Faith”, a documentary about Mennonites faith, history and how they differ from the Amish.  Though a little dated, they were well made, entertaining and informative.  Though the Amish film was beautiful and quaint, I feel that I got the most out of watching the Mennonite film.  In the late 1600’s a group split from the Mennonites because they felt they were being too worldly and receptive to change.  Those folks who split are whom we know as the Amish.  The Mennonites see change as inevitable, live modern and actively reach out to other communities and countries to spread their faith.  The split must’ve been for the best.  The film featured Mellinger Church located in town.  Seeing several brown faces in the pews aroused my curiosity.  In Dutch Country, the Amish get all the attention, but the Mennonites are way cooler!  I planned to pay that church a visit!

I arrived bright and early Sunday morning for their 8:30AM coffee and fellowship.  There was a greeter at the door who asked me if I’d be attending Sunday School.  “Isn’t that for children?” I asked.  She told me that in this church, they have it for all age groups then handed me information pamphlets.  I took three steps into the lobby before I was approached by a well-dressed, sweet-faced elderly woman named Maye* who introduced herself and asked if I was just visiting or looking for a new church home.   I told her that I was only passing through and wanted to visit before leaving Lancaster County.

Maye brought me downstairs to the kitchen and banquet area where parishioners were having coffee before class started.  The room was large with round covered tables and a kitchen window towards the back where refreshments were served.  She enthusiastically introduced me to everyone who crossed our path on the way to the kitchen.  The counter had a full spread of coffee, teas, and condiments.  The group of men behind the counter was friendly and jovial.  I helped myself to some lemon-ginger tea and sat down with Maye and five of her friends.  It was then that I noticed that the men and women sat at separate tables.  I didn’t see this as a bad thing.  If you’re retiree who spends most of your time with your spouse, “girl and guy talk” should be taken at every opportunity!  Maye’s friends were pleasant to chat with and made an effort to make me feel welcomed… Which I did.

A good-looking man with dark features in his late thirties approached our table and Maye introduced us.   Dave* is a Deacon at the church and she told me that I’ll be going to his Sunday School class across the hall (classes are divided by age groups).  “Don’t worry, he’s safe… He’s married!”, Maye chuckled… half jokingly.   Dave laughed as a blush washed over his face, “Of, course I’m safe!”  Maye’s words struck me as quaint.  It allowed me to imagine a time when women were more protected from wolves, cads and humiliation.  An electronic bell chimed and everyone went to class.

In Dave’s class they discussed the book, “Just Walk Across the Room”.  It’s a guide about evangelizing the people you come across by simply connecting to them.  Dave handed me his copy to follow along.  There were seven of us in all, sitting in a circle, including Dave’s wife, Melony* who was sitting next to me. Everyone was attractive, wholesome and fashionable in a J.C. Penny sort of way. There was some small talk about what I thought of my visit and the sights around town, etc.  Everyone seemed a little surprised about my solo RV trip.  “You’re doing this alone?!”, Dave asked.   I couldn’t help but feel that the men in the group were hoping their wives wouldn’t get any funny ideas!  They were warm and friendly enough, but I did feel low-grade tension and I couldn’t place the reason.   I don’t think it was because I was black (that’s a totally different vibe).  Maybe, they’re not used to uppity women.  Maybe they rarely have visitors under 65… I don’t know.  At the end of class, they prayed for me to have a safe trip.

Dave and Melony invited me to sit with them during the service and Dave let me keep his book.  Their beautiful daughters, aged 8 and 10, sat in the pew behind us.   I was a little surprised to see that the Mennonite style of worship was no different than a white Baptist service.  There was a band that played contemporary Christian music as parishioners followed the lyrics on a large screen.  Some people, Dave included, raised their hands up in the air as they sang to receive the Holy Spirit. The older folks dressed more formal.  Some of the older women wore traditional white bonnets on their heads.  The younger people dressed casual.  Since I was wearing my long summer skirt and Teva sandals, I did not feel out of place.    One thing disappointed me.  I didn’t see any black faces as shown in the documentary… Where the hell did they go???

As the service came to a close, I wondered if I would be invited to go out somewhere afterwards as church folks often do for newcomers.  I quickly started going through a list of excuses to give because I was in a hurry to move on to my next spot.  Also, Melony didn’t seem comfortable sitting next to me; she had her arms folded the whole time.   At the end of the benediction, everyone stood up to leave.  Melony turn to me and said, “It was really nice meeting you, have a safe journey.”  I thanked her and extended my hand.  She reached out to give me a hug…. Seriously?  Dave, who was sitting on the other side of her reached over to shake my hand.  “It was really nice meeting you.  Thank you for visiting us.”  I felt his sincerity.

I rushed out to the lobby and briefly scanned the room for Maye, but did not see her so I quickly left. Feelings of guilt lingered as I sped down the highway for not waiting around to say goodbye to her.  She was so nice and welcoming to me, but I felt compelled to leave right away.   My guilt has since subsided.  I’ve decided that since my gut told me to leave, it was simply the right thing to do.

Up next… Gettysburg!

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Side Note:  It’s been a month since liftoff!  With writing, I have a lot of catching up to do!

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

LIFTOFF!

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Eunice in Astoria

I’m happy to announce that I’ve gone full nomad and now on the road!  It’s been a month since I’ve been laid off and a month can speed by fast, especially when your life is about to change.   A month is the amount of time I gave myself to tie up loose ends and grab ample amounts of quality time with Beau before heading off.  The date of my cousin’s wedding (that I recently attended) was set a month after I got pink slipped, so I planned to leave shortly after then.  Yesterday, I left Connecticut and a filmmaker friend of mine had me as a guest on his popular podcast, New York Cine in Astoria to discuss films, my gypsy lifestyle, and plug my blog.  What better way to leave the Northeast with a bang than right after a joyous celebration and a broadcast of my launch?

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Latest New York Cine Podcast wrapped up!

I had much to do, most of which entailed just figuring things out like receiving my mail and packages while on the road.  I have a P.O. Box with street addressing, but their mail forwarding service is too pricey for my budget.  I get mostly junk mail anyway, but gave my key to Beau in case anything important arrives.  With the exception of my Utah Concealed Firearm Permit coming through, I expect nothing more and will let my box expire when the term is up in a few months.   I’ll officially change my address when I finally get to Texas at the end of the summer.

For ordering goods off the Internet, I’ll simply have packages sent to the Post Office in the town I’m in and pick it up there.  This is referred to as General Delivery.  To have mail and packages held for you, have your sender write, “General Delivery” under your name.  For Internet orders, I’d use the address line on the order form.   Write the town, state, and full zip code and be sure to include the extension.  The Post Office will hold your mail for 30 days.  Finding out this piece of information will save me a lot of money and time since I was seriously considering using one of the many mail forwarding and pick-up services catering to RVers and travelers.

Since I’ll likely be in areas that are not populated with parked cars on the street, stealth camping overnight on a curb could attract the wrong type of attention.  Rest stops are out of the question because they’re spooky to me.  With a little research, I’ve found that gas stop facilities, which cater mainly to truck drivers (Travel Centers of America, Petro, and Pilot), are an excellent alterative to boondocking.  They are RV friendly, offering free overnight parking, nice pay showers (around $12), sewer tank dump stations, convenience shops and really good restaurants… some are buffet!  It’s great to know that these beacons are everywhere, in just about every state and situated right off the highway.

Another quick option (especially if you’re starting to get dangerously tired on the road) is to park at a hotel or inn, preferably with a lot of cars so you can to blend in.  It would be a good idea to find a spot out of view from the check-in desk.  Most seeing your van or small RV will assume you are renting a room.  I picked up this tip from a video and did this successfully just last night!  For those who prefer peaceful solitude and aren’t fearful of being deep in the woods and surrounded by nature in pitch darkness (like Beau), there are government-owned parks throughout the country where people may camp for free.  Don’t expect any of the conveniences of paid camps like water or electric hookups.  However, that can be part of the fun!  And let’s not forget the retail boondocking staples: Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Cabelas!

A word about finding water without staying at paid campgrounds, I’ve read on a forum somewhere that you can fill up your tank at most gas stations if you simply ask nicely… and tell them that you only need a few gallons.   We’ll see how this works for me.

Fast food, take-out, and dining on the road quickly adds up financially and on the scale.   Since I’m unemployed and many pounds overweight, this needs to be a concern of mine.   Most days, I’ll be drinking my Walker Diet low-carb powdered shakes for breakfast and lunch.  It tastes good, has a thick consistency, and mixes with water, so I don’t need to worry about refrigerating milk.   A can of it will last me a week and it’s pretty affordable at less than two dollars a serving.  For dinner, the simplest option is to go with canned food and veggies.   I’ll try my best to eat out no more than twice a week.  Good food is a weakness of mine.

With the burden of figuring out the logistics of long-term road travel out of the way, I was able to focus my attention on other things. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something.  I quickly realized that this feeling was due to not packing belongings, something one usually does when picking up and leaving behind everything they know.  I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was leaving and not coming back.   I drove through the center of my town and thought to myself,  “I may never see this place again… and if I do, it may look totally different than what I see now before me.”

I queued up lunch and coffee dates with a hand full of friends who mattered to me, in one way or another.   It occurred to me, that if I were to ever see them again, they too would be different than how I remember them now.  Fortunately, the goodbyes at the end of lunch and coffee were not as solemn as I feared… with people connected on Facebook, to each other, they no longer have to be.

In contrast, parting with Beau, though temporary, was not as easy.   We spent nearly everyday together since we met and now, we will not.  The morning of my journey, he cooked me a simple and delicious breakfast and cut me a fresh, fragrant bouquet of roses from his garden to carry with me.  Beau had also given me a mint amethyst pendant… it’s beautiful! Before I hopped into the driver’s seat of my van, we must’ve kissed, hugged and said goodbye at least five times… painfully lingering.  The final time we embraced, we prayed for God to watch over us and to keep the other safe while we are apart.  There was a heavy lump in my throat and one coming up again as I write this.   As I drove down the interstate, I realized that Beau (the strong silent type) was the only man whose eyes teared up over parting with me.

We managed to get some good quality time together and worked out a plan (and alternatives for that plan) for when we reunite in Texas at the end of the summer.  He has a few projects and obligations to square away in preparation for his move.  The up side is that since there is much for both of us to do, three months will, hopefully, go by fast.

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So what’s on the itinerary?  I’d been asked that a lot and the answer is that I really don’t have one.  However, I have a short list of places I’d definitely like to visit.  I’ll simply roam about in between those places of interest… after all, that’s what gypsies do.

It is somewhat surreal that I’m writing this entry from Pennsylvania.  It’s been roughly a year ago since I decided to pursue the nomadic lifestyle and it’s now a reality!  Because of you, my readers (who have kept me focused), a lot of grit, and a touch of luck… I’m HERE!  Houston, we have liftoff!

LET’S CELEBRATE!!!  

Side Note:  I had a blast being a guest on New York Cine Podcast, co-hosted by underground filmmaker, Thomas Edward Seymour.   Have a listen and let me know what you think and be sure to subscribe, especially if you love film… even bad ones!

Stops Along the Way: Part 1

Forgive me all, it has been two months since my last confession!  Much has transpired which is the reason of my hiatus.  Time goes by fast and even faster when you have much to do by a deadline.   My energies have been scattered between organizing my belongings, moving into my home on wheels, and being hit with the first Nor’easter of the season!

I’m happy to announce that I am now a full time RVer!  I intended to write a climactic entry the night before my big move (the last day of October), but a hurricane Sandy came along and knocked out my Internet connection.  I will not complain too harshly since compared to many others in my region, I got off easy.  It’s somewhat strange for me to think about how I had an idea to change my life only a few months ago and now I’m writing this entry from the inside of my new home.  I guess life really is that simple.  It’s only the stops we take along the way in our journey that makes change seem so complicated.

The morning after I gave my landlord notice, I woke up in sheer panic.  I originally planned to move out in the spring when the weather was warm.  That way, I would only have to focus on learning the basics of RV living.  However, I quickly grew impatient.  I didn’t want to put off tomorrow what could be done by the end of the rent month!  This would entail diving head-first into the world of RVing in the harsh New England winter… a winter that is forecasted to be one of the nastiest!

“What was I thinking?”, “I’m in over my head”, “Oh, My God. I’m going to DIE!” were just a few of the loops on repeat rattling about in my mind.   I was ready to tell my landlord that I had changed my mind, but a friend, thankfully, deterred me.  He said, “Second thoughts seed regret.  Roughing the winter will only make you enjoy the warm seasons that much more.”  Deep down, I knew he was right.  If I backed down from this, I wouldn’t have the same amount of respect for myself.  I decided to accept this challenge and moved forward with my plans.

I sorted through my belongings.  I used the time-tested method of dividing my things in three piles: stuff to keep, stuff to sell or give away, and stuff to trash.  And boy, was I ruthless! I even gave away my beautiful crimson prom dress from Lord and Taylors that I held on to for so many years.  Goodwill was my place of choice because they employ the disabled.  I managed to whittle down my possessions to only what I needed and used.  I’m still not done.  As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll shed a couple more items out of my camper van.  Mind you, I still have a small storage unit with some stuff from my previous apartment that has to be out in two weeks.  That’s right, I gave the storage people notice, too!

A few weeks before I moved, I researched winter RVing on the Internet and scanned message boards.  The most important thing I gathered was that winter RVing was possible.  I picked up some very useful information, such as getting a propane efficient catalytic heater instead of relying on my RV’s furnace and the joys of windows insulation.  I still felt a little shaky and I decided to get up from behind my laptop to find a real person to speak to about this matter.  I did a Google search for RV places in my area and I found Long View RV in Windsor Locks and decided to pay them a visit.  I’m glad I did!

When I walked in, I felt a good vibe about the place.  If I didn’t, I would’ve walked right out.  The shop was clean and inviting with rows of RVing equipment and bottles and bottles of different RV stuff displayed on the selves.  I was greeted by Marie who was sitting behind the check out counter.  She was warm, friendly and easy to talk to.  Marie enthusiastically showed me around the store even though she was new and wasn’t able to answer any of my weird winter camping questions.

She noticed that I pulled up in a Coachmen and told me of a salesman with the company by the name of Jake who has sold Coachmens throughout his career since the 1960’s.  She sent for him and he came from his office to meet me.  Jake is an overall attractive gentleman, charming, and with a glint in his eye.  Call it a Cloud Atlas moment, but I immediately sensed something special about this man.  Marie told Jake of my intention of becoming a full time RVer this winter… in Connecticut.  “No, you’re not!” he said in a dry, humorous fashion.  I couldn’t help but laugh because we both knew that what I’m trying to do is a little bit crazy.  He saw that I was all in, and proceeded to coach me.  I was advised on the harshness of our weather and the challenges it would pose to comfortable mobile living.

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 J.C. and Jake

There were a few options I could take, but Jake’s top recommendation was winterizing and dry camping (living in your rig without using running water or plumbing). I first recoiled at the idea, but it seem much more favorable than insulating and constantly monitoring my tanks and pipes to make sure they don’t burst on me.  I felt relieved that I finally had a course of action to follow.  On my way out, Marie handed me an accessory catalog and recommend I attend their upcoming  free RV winterizing class.  Jake followed me out to the parking lot to tell me something. He smiled and said that I had more “cojones” than he did.  I was charmed, but since he knows his stuff and I don’t, I didn’t know weather to be flattered or a be little scared for myself!

I attended Longview’s winterizing class that was held in a large room above the store.  Free donuts were provided, so already, I was excited to be there!   Not surprisingly, most of the attendees were in their 50’s and up.  Joe, the shop’s Service Manager led the class.  He started off by emphasizing that there is more to winterizing an RV than just loading up your tanks and pipes full of antifreeze.  He then proceeded to cover how to use all the cogs and sprockets needed to get the job done right.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was waaay over my head.  I decided to cut out of class early and headed down stairs to schedule an appointment with JC, the service adviser.

The night before my big move,  I organized my belongings (more or less), and moved them in the RV under the cloak of night.   Change was in the air.  I was nearly overcome by a strange combination of stress and excitement… sort of the same feeling I got when I was about to get married, but unlike then, I knew that I was making the right decision.

In the morning, I took pictures of my empty place (a habit before leaving any rental to protect myself), dropped off my keys and headed off to work.  My day was like any other before then, but somewhat surreal.  I felt lighter but with a feeling of uncertainty since I wasn’t sure where I would sleep for the night.  I have options and since my camper van could fit into regular parking spaces that bigger RVs can’t, I could easily boondock.  However, I didn’t want to deal with the nuances of stealth parking right out the gate.

During my lunch break, I did some research and it turns out there are other retailers besides Walmart that allows RV parking overnight.  I found a store that is very RV friendly, safe (well lit with cameras everywhere) and super convenient in location.  I called up the store’s manager and asked if campers could stay for a few days.  “Stay as long as you need!” he said.  I was happy and relieved; it was one less thing to worry about.  For the winter, I was planning on renting a space in the parking lot of a multifamily house converted into an office building, but why spend the money?  I decided no more rent… period.

The work day came to a close and my first night was coming upon me.

To be continued…