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.

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A New Spirit in Gettysburg

I headed south and arrived in Gettysburg.  I stopped at a McDonald’s next to the Walmart where I planned to stay overnight.  I found a good table and set up my laptop for a long visit.  I cable locked it to the table stand (keep it secure for when I have to run to the bathroom) and took out a pen and pad to take notes for affordable things to do while in town.   I also use this time to do my online banking, check my emails, apply for jobs in Texas, read the news and of course, mess around on Facebook.  I like to call this taking a “business day”.   I have to say that McDonald’s has become gypsy friendly since they have decided to become a part-time coffee house, rivaling Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.  It’s just a matter of finding one with available power outlets.

After I got settled in at my table, I went up to the counter to order a few Dollar Menu items.  On the way back, I noticed a blonde woman and her college-aged daughter praying grace over their food.  They weren’t doing one of those quick “Thanks for the grub” prayers.  They made time for what they were doing.  Their backs were straight and their eyes were closed as they held hands across the small table in plain view of everyone in line at the counter.   I’ve never seen anyone pray grace at a McDonalds, better yet, I’ve never seen anyone pray grace at any restaurant. I searched online looking for interesting things to do.  Being the patriot that I am, Gettysburg was full of American history that I wanted to experience.

It was late and my business day came to a close.  I parked at Walmart and went inside to pick up a few things.  It was kind of run down for a tourist area; small, low ceilings and poorly lit.  When I brought my things to the check out counter, I was tired and ready to sleep.  Since their parking lot was relatively small, I decided to do something that I usually don’t do.  I asked the associate if it was okay to park overnight.  At most Walmarts, RV and Truck parking overnight is allowed, but it’s recommended to ask as a courtesy.   The associate told me that she had to ask the assistant manager on shift since the manager was out for the night.  After she checked out my items she turned to the Assistant Manager, who happened to be working in the next isle.  “No, absolutely, no! It’s prohibited because of the townships!”, she said with an odd and off-putting zeal.  Now, I was tired and angry.  I could’ve just not asked permission, blended in with the rest of the vehicles in the parking lot and they wouldn’t have known the difference.   Since I already “flagged” myself by asking, I opted to stay in the parking lot of a neighboring inn.   Since the only Walmart in town wasn’t gypsy friendly, I decided that this would be my last and only night in Gettysburg.  Apart from a few choice attractions, why pump any more of my money into a town that doesn’t support me?

The next morning, I went to the Gettysburg National Cemetery.   It was a beautiful day as I walked through the gates.  I first stopped at the Lincoln Monument; it was near the spot where Lincoln had given the Gettysburg Address.   I continued on to visit some of the final resting places of the Civil War dead.  The battle of Gettysburg, lasting only three days, was one of the bloodiest battles in our nation’s history and a turning point for Union victory.  Yet, nothing prepared me for seeing the overwhelming number of headstones of these poor souls lost during this short time.  As I walked in between graves, both marked and unmarked, the history of this event became more to me than just writing on a texbook page.

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Afterwards, I went down the street to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.  It features a restored cyclorama from 1884 of the Battle of Gettysburg, an unbelievably large exhibit (almost half the size of a football field) displaying valuable relics and interactive media presentations covering the Civil War from beginning to end, including the assassination of President Lincoln and the reformation.  I have to say that it was the best exhibit I have visited thus far!  The museum also features a short film produced by the History Channel, that artfully framed the Civil War and it’s aftermath called, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by Morgan Freeman, which was powerful enough to leave me in tears.  The way the actor, portraying Lincoln, delivered his famous closing phrase of the Gettysburg Address, “…that government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE…” with his verbal emphasis on the people (rather than the overused emphasis on the prepositions, “of”, “by”, and “for”) really hit it home for me.  It gave Abraham Lincoln’s words and the foundation of what our government is about true meaning for me.    At that moment, a new spirit of inspiration arose in me.  I decided that I would head to Springfield, Illinois to visit Lincoln’s Presidential Museum and anything else historically tangible that I could experience of him!

vc200x150Gettysburg National Military Park Museum

gettcyclo-415Gettysburg Cyclorama surrounds the entire room!

When I was through visiting the Museum, I found that only half of my day was spent.  I decided to go to the town center and have a Civil War era photo taken at Victorian Photography Studio.  They don’t do the tongue-in-cheek pictures people have taken at carnivals and fairs.  These folks use the same wet plate technique that was used in the 1850’s!  I learned of this studio online over a year ago and was excited to finally have a real old tymie photo taken!  A husband and wife team runs the studio and they were very  pleasant to work with.  They weren’t what most people would expect of modern day Victorian photographers.  I imagined that their dress and attitude would be stiflingly prim, nostalgically echoing a bygone era.  Instead, they were humorous, down to Earth and casual.  I also spotted a quite a few cool, badass tattoos on them… I have a hunch that they like to go biking (Harley, not 10-speed).  After I selected my package (a small tin type for around $40), I told them of my gypsy lifestyle.  “You’re man is letting you travel by yourself?”, the husband half of the duo asked.  “I’m meeting up with him in Texas at the end of the summer, where we’ll most likely make our residence.” I replied.  His concern quickly subsided.  I’m starting to see a trend here.  I never thought people would see me traveling on my own as a big deal, but they often do.

His wife brought me upstairs to the studio to help me pick out a costume and set up the shot.  Usually, they work together, but since it was just myself and not a larger party, she was able to take care of me herself.   When she asked me what I had in mind, I told her that I wanted something that the average, everyday black woman would wear in that time.  Since the costumes were authentic Victorian pieces, she dressed me herself to avoid any rips and tears that may occur from misfits.  The first two garments couldn’t button over my “girls”.  With me being a size 14 at 5’6, they are quite ample.  The third garment, luckily, fit perfectly.  She then picked out a nice cameo broach and clip on earrings from her accessory bin to complete the look.  My pink, woven hair net for my dreadlocks, coincidently were time-appropriate, so we kept that on.

We had good conversation while we were getting ready for my shoot.  It turns out that she’s Christian and met her husband at church.  We both had been married before and shared similar views about commitment.  We both agreed that: 1. Commitment means that giving up is not an option… and 2. It takes two people with that mindset to keep that commitment.  She positioned me on a chair in front of the large, wooden camera then placed a U-shaped metal headrest behind my head to keep me still.  Using headrests were common for Victorian photographers.  Since the shutter speed of their cameras is slow, the slightest move could result in a blurry picture.

When it was time to take my photo, she slid the tin in the camera and removed the light block from behind the lense.  I had to stay still for about one minute.  Afterwards, she removed the plate with my captured my image, which was barely visible.  She carefully brought it to a nearby table to process it.  She explained the process to me as she worked the plate.  I saw that the tin was very light and faintly had my image as a negative as she placed it in a dish of water.  “Now, when I place it in the next dish, your picture will develop right before your eyes.”, she said.  Then she placed it in a dish of cyanide. Slowly, an image of me appeared, quickly starting at the edges like paper consumed by fire.  “Wow, this is Victorian me!” I thought in amusement.  The second thought I had was how aged and worn I appeared!  So here’s what I figured out… Tin plate Victorian photography is harsh and unkind.  When taken up close, it emphasizes every fold and crease.  Have you ever seen a photograph of a historical figure (when they were relatively young) and thought to yourself, “Goodness… Life must’ve been hard back in the day!”?  This type of photography, though nostalgically dignified, can add a good 10 – 20 years on anyone over the age of 17!  Well, that’s what I told myself.  Also, if your skin is deeper than olive, you may come out five times darker than you actually are regardless of lighting.  Having said that, I really dig my Victorian photo!

1010455_4680096090761_1137802453_nI am my own great grandma!

Next up… Baltimore!

Side note:  My original photo is actually clearer (harsh) and sepia colored.  Since the photo was processed on tin, it didn’t transfer well when I tried to have it scanned.  I had to take a picture of my picture with my phone!

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.

Beau FishingBeau fishing

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.

tn-1

 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…

Home Sweet Home

I’m excited to say that I have bought my new home!  This beauty is a 1994 Ford Coachmen… her name is Eunice.  She’s a fully self-contained camper van with a teal interior, my favorite color!  When I went to put down a deposit, it was not a moment too soon!  A retiree and his friends pulled up to the curb where my van was displayed for sale, ready to buy… just as the previous owner, Rich, was writing up my receipt!  I listened to my gut that this RV would get snatched up by someone else that weekend if I didn’t act and luckily, it paid off.

The owner was asking for $8,000 and my mechanic (who kicked in negotiation services for free) talked him down to $6,800.  It was worth every penny.  Rich took very good care of Eunice and used a storage facility every winter, thus allowing her to retain a relatively youthful appearance despite her maturity.  She rides smooth!

I picked up my RV a week ago before heading in to work.  I bought locally (what I now strongly recommend) so it wasn’t a big deal, time-wise, to meet Rich at my bank, transfer the title, and go to the DMV that morning.  I pulled into my company’s parking lot as if I were riding in on a chariot!

My coworkers were a little surprised that I didn’t have much fear or difficulty transitioning from a small Yaris to a large van.  Before I picked it up, it was a concern of mine, too.  I reminded myself that I first learned how to drive using a 1988 Toyota van.  However, that was a long time ago.  I also did a few visualization exercises of me driving on the road with my RV while being at ease and in complete control.

When I  first sat in the driver’s seat, I made a decision to deliberately force myself to do everything that intimidated me while driving my RV.  I did this more out of laziness than brazen determination.  It’s just too much work to avoid scary situations rather than simply overcoming them.  I saw a nice parking space between two cars at work, but the side of the building across from the cars were really close; going in and out of this space with a big vehicle would be very awkward.  I tried to pull in anyway and, of course, I had to reverse and pull forward about ten times as people watched, but darn it… I made it in!

Highways were not a problem, because I took my honey sweet time driving.  My approach to being behind the wheel had changed overnight! Instead of zipping  and ducking out of people’s way (as I had with my Yaris) I joyfully take my time on the road at a leisurely pace.  Staying around 55 to 65 mph is the sweet spot for me.  I noticed that people gave me my space on the road.  I made my first lengthy trip, an hour and half  to New York, near the city.  I took the tree-canopied lanes of the Merrit Parkway … it was a beautiful drive.

Phase One of my gypsy plan has been accomplished.  Next on the horizon (Phase Two) is to break from the nine to five, and then (Phase Three)… live the dream!

Yesterday, I gave my landlord notice that I’ll be moving out at the end of the month.  Wait… I have a lot of stuff to get rid of!

Side Note: About a month ago, I was having lunch  at a restaurant with *Candie, a good friend of mine. I think one of the reasons why our friendship is so interesting is because she’s the exact opposite of me: conventional, prudent, and steadfast in temperament.  When I told her my plans of going nomad, a peculiar look washed over her face that I had not seen before.  Her brows furrowed, mouth slightly down turned, yet no hostility in her eyes.  She had questions and I answered them the best I could.  I pride myself on being able to read people very well, but in this case, I was stumped!  Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think of this poignant scene from Pulp Fiction.

*Name changed to protect the innocent and infamous

Onwards and Onwards!

As you know, I sold my car over the weekend.  Two months ago, I started shopping for a RV.   It was just window shopping online, actually.  I knew I wanted to get one, but for some reason, I had it in my mind that it would be something only possible “In the future”.  Yes, having a dream and vision is all good, but I was paying attention to concrete reality.  Even used, these beauties can be expensive!

Despite my perceived financial obstacle, RV living was stuck in my head and I couldn’t help but indulge myself anyway.  I subscribed to full-time RVers’ blogs, (especially female ones) and joined several Facebook pages dedicated to the lifestyle.  I stalked RV Trader and Craig’s List like a leopard.  The more I researched, the more excited I became.  The more excited I became, the more I was compelled to act.  I committed myself to the decision to get my RV now.  Given my newly adopted No Waiting Credo, I had to make this happen.

I examined all my options.  I chose the quickest and most straight forward approach;  simply sell my car and “adjust” my sights to something older and affordable, yet good.  I could’ve looked into financing something newer, but that would defeat my purpose of being financially free.  I could’ve waited and give myself a year or two to hustle and save, but that would go against my newly held beliefs.  A lot can happen in a year and I’m not giving anything room to wiggle itself in my way.  Selling my car as soon as possible was the best way to go.  Thankfully, Rugby had retained much of his resale value… it was his final gift to me.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t postpone shopping around.  There are a lot more affordable options out there than I thought.  There’s a RV for every budget… So, I got to work…

I found this beautiful Falcon (above) on Craig’s List, listed in Upstate NY for $11,500.  It had everything that I wanted already installed: hardwood flooring, solar panels, and a generator. The owner even replaced the standard sofa with a futon with custom made organic cotton covering!  Another plus was that it was the same model that Glenn Morrissette had when he first started his journey.  I wanted it so badly and almost bought it immediately, but a good friend of mine (who knows all about mechanics and car stuff),  pointed out that it was way overpriced for a 1996 model… especially with 120k miles.

After looking up its value on the N.A.D.A. website, I saw that he was indeed correct.  It’s actually worth around $6,500 and that’s with it being on the high end of the spectrum.  The owner wasn’t willing to go down anywhere near that price.  She had put a lot into her Falcon, but failed to see that those extras also had depreciated over time along with her vehicle.  She was too emotionally invested in her RV and wasn’t going to let it go for what it was actually worth.  She was a pleasant lady to speak to and I really liked what she did with the RV.  I would’ve paid around $1,000 above its valued price, but we couldn’t come to an agreement.  Though disappointing, I looked at it as an exercise in the RV buying process.

Note that I never drove upstate to see the RV in person.  After viewing detailed pictures and asking the seller a lot of questions, I found a mechanic in the owner’s area (with a good online reputation) who would do a pre-sale inspection for $100 when I come up to see it.  Then I would negotiate a deal with the seller at that point based on what the mechanic found.  Since the owner let me know over the phone that she was more or less firm on her price, I cancelled my two hour trip.  Moving on.

With this RV, I wish I had exercised the same common sense that I had with the Falcon… but I didn’t.  I found this 1994 Chinook for only $7,500 and 50K miles on Craig’s List and got carried away!  To give you a little background, Chinooks are the Cadillac of RV’s and they’re built solid like tanks. I also liked that it had a completely enclosed bathroom and a great layout.   Also, they stopped making Chinooks years ago, so they are very much in demand and usually don’t stay on the market for long.

I was so sure that I was going to make a purchase, that I drove five hours to the southern most part of  New Jersey to see it… and it was a BIG disappointment!  What the pictures didn’t show was the faint black and grey splotches of mold all over the outside of the RV.  What the pictures didn’t show was the overwhelming smell of dampness on the inside of the cabin that made it smell like an old boat.  I’m no expert, but any type of water damage can’t be a good thing.  Moving on… to FIVE MORE  hours back on the highway!

They say the third time’s a charm.  In my case, it may be true!  The moment I returned from my exhausting New Jersey excursion, I searched for a cute RV that stayed in the back of my mind since my online window shopping phase.  I called the owner, found that it was still available and made an appointment with my mechanic to see it the very next day.  And yada, yada, yada… I put down a deposit on my new home that I’ll be picking up first thing tomorrow morning… BREATHE DEEP!

Baby Steps, Big Leaps Part: 2

“This man lives full-time in his RV, has no rent, no car payment, and can live wherever he damn well pleases?”, my mind raced as I read through the article.  I was pleasantly surprised by the photo of Glenn Morrissette’s home on wheels.  It was a 19 foot, fully self-contained camper van.  I never knew RVs came in that size… I thought they were all large and imposing.  With a motor home that small, he really could drive and (most importantly) park wherever he wanted!

I felt a sense of relief and validation.  Here is someone who is free, self-sufficient, and enjoying life on his own terms.  I felt a rush of inspiration… This is how I want to live!  Wait, could I do that?  It couldn’t possibly be that easy to have an idea to completely change your lifestyle and then simply do it.  I felt that it was best to bounce this off of someone whose opinions I respect.

I casually mentioned the idea to my closest friend, *Mae over the phone during one of our lengthy conversations.  She is much older than myself, a wise maternal figure who has helped me navigate through a lot of rough spots in my life.  “Ugh… You’ll have to empty the poop!  When I had my camper 30 years ago, I absolutely hated it.” she said.   Of course… the poop! I hadn’t even considered that and became equally disgusted at the notion of opening up a camper’s sewer line.  I also found this process, of which I knew nothing about, intimidating.  And that was that, I was deterred.

That was over a year ago.  Looking back, I regret not pushing forward with my idea despite my little hang-ups.  I couldn’t blame Mae for being discouraging because her intent was to save me from unpleasantries that make grown men gag.  Remember what I said about listening to your gut at every turn?  Do that.  If you listen to other people over what you feel tugging at you inside, you will be setting yourself up for a very sad and miserable life.  Friends and family (for most people) mean well, but they’re only capable of giving you advice from their point of view, slanting towards what would be important to themselves.  It is almost impossible for them to deeply understand what would be truly important to you. You must always keep that in mind, doubly so if you’re considering doing something that’s off the beaten path and unconventional.

Also, don’t wait… take action as soon possible!  Never leave a life decision on the shelf.  The thought came to you when it did for a reason.  I’ve found that whenever I waited to execute a decision,  the task only became more difficult to pull off down the road.  When I worked in real estate, I waited to pursue a Broker’s License and the state raised the class hour requirements.  I waited six months to divorce my ex husband and the economy tanked.  I waited to shop for an RV, and now must sell my car first instead of after because my savings account just ain’t what it used to be.  Whether you have to take baby steps or big leaps… Don’t wait!

Thankfully, I managed to land on my feet.  Things are good… but they could’ve been better.  I was hired for a job eight months ago that allows me to use some of my creative talents.   For the first time in my life, I go to a 9-5 that doesn’t make me feel a sense of dread on Sunday nights!  It’s a nice place to be, but two months ago, I felt something familiar tugging at me.  My thoughts went back to Glenn Morrissette.  This time, I dug deeper and started following his blog.  Though content with my current situation, I knew in my soul that I have to move on.  FIRST GOAL: Replace car with an awesome camper van.  Baby steps…

Side note – I saw this movie when I was fresh out of college and loved it!  Hmmm… Perhaps it had planted a seed in me?  Lost In America

*Fictitious name to protect the innocent and infamous.