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.

Roots… of My Country

Townspeople of Williamsburg

Townspeople: Free and Otherwise

It was already the last week of June and I finally started to feel the heat of summer as I drove down the interstate into Virginia.  I stopped at the welcome center to stretch my legs and browsed the tourist pamphlets.   I’ve been to Virginia several times before because I have some relatives that I visited throughout my childhood.  Though, the patriot in me was excited to experience reenactments pertaining to the American Revolution at Colonial Williamsburg, I came to Virginia mainly to see my cousins and great aunt.   Since my cousin in Richmond was still on her trip (world travel is her hobby) and the other was way down in Virginia Beach, Williamsburg was slated as the first stop.

The sun was going down when I reached my destination at Walmart.  To my delight, it was close to all the gypsy friendly amenities needed, including gyms!  The idea of sponge bathing no longer appealed to me; I had grown spoiled.  Since truck stop showers can easily add up to a big expense, my strategy for grooming was to find gyms with decent facilities and a free trail period.  I limited my search to local gyms only and avoided large national chains since I haven’t yet decided which one to join.  I chose American Family Fitness because their facilities were very impressive, rivaling L.A. Fitness.

How does one sign up for a temporary pass without a local address or any intention to stay in town?  The answer is to simply have a good story as any novice grifter would! My story was that I recently moved to the area and currently living with a relative until I find a job and my own place.   This explains why I still have a Connecticut driver’s license and no place of employment.  I found the closest apartment complex and committed the street address to memory in order to fill out the visitor form and engage in any “small talk” if asked about where I live.   Was this honest?  No, but my showers were free, clean and accessible.  Hopefully, plugging them in this post will tip my Karmic scale back to a favorable balance.

I took a day to drive around Williamsburg and it’s a very beautiful place.  All the buildings I drove past were newly constructed and well built. It was as if most of the town was created as a planned community.  The people weren’t as friendly and open like the people in Baltimore or Lancaster, but they had a pleasant and welcoming vibe, which was enough for me. The evenings were comfortably warm with a comforting, caressing breeze.  I took half a business day and reserved a two-day pass to visit Colonial Williamsburg for the next day.

I made an effort to arrive early in the morning, since there were a lot of things to do and see.   After I picked up my pass (which was to be worn during my visit), I stopped to look at a scale model of the grounds, which was overwhelmingly huge.  I was glad that I opted to visit for two days instead of just one!  I glanced at my map/schedule and checked off all the available activities I wanted to do.   There was an orientation film, Williamsburg: the story of a Patriot that was starting in the visitor center theater in just a few minutes.  It was shot in the late 1950’s, starring a young and handsome Jack Lord.   The story was about Virginia’s role in America’s independence.  Though the film was dated (longest-running motion picture in history), it primed me for the experience of going back in history.

I left the theater and crossed over the bridge onto the Colonial grounds.  It was like stepping into another time.  There were townspeople in character of every social station of that age, ready to casually interact with visitors at their post or shoppe.  I visited farmers, local tradesmen, homes of nobility, and took a tour of the lavish Governor’s Palace.   Then, I popped into the gunsmith’s shop to see how guns, bullets and silverware were made.   The blacksmith demonstrated how he keeps the fire hot enough for melting iron.  His wife showed me her collection of molds for spoons, pots, and bullets.  Afterwards, I went to the town’s theater and watched a short period comedy and gained insight into the culture of the performing arts during that period.  A tour of the courthouse was open and I witnessed three very entertaining mock trails with some of the visitors playing the role of defendant and plaintiff!  It was all done in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner, but you left with an understanding of how everyday disputes were settled.

Governor's Palace

Governor’s Palace

Governor's Chef

Governor’s Chef

Cured Meats

Cured Meats

Ye Olde Gunsmith

Ye Olde Gunsmith

Instruments of Freedom

Instruments of Freedom

Parade to Town Square

Declaration of Independence Announcement

Declaration of Independence Announcement

The event I wanted to see most and above ALL was the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment, where a founding father performs a speech and interacts with the audience.  Washington, Jefferson, or maybe it will be Benjamin Franklin?  It is not known which forefather will arrive or what he would say.   Being what one would call a rabid “Constitutionalist”, I was thoroughly intrigued!  However, my schedule for the day was already full, so I decided I would save the talk for the next day, which started late afternoon. There was just so much to do and learn; it was nearly overwhelming! I began to have a strong sense of how we, as a people, worked together as a community to sow the revolutionary seeds of our nation.  I am proud to be an American.

Being in such an immersive environment can be an enriching and positive experience.  However, I found that engaging, enriching experiences also cut the other way.  The next morning, I attended an inspiring reenactment of the public reading of The Declaration of Independence.  Afterwards, I looked at my activity sheet and decided to take The Life of a Slave tour.  On the itinerary, it had a disclaimer that it was not suitable for small children.  “Curious.” I thought to myself. Though the slavery of my ancestors was endured in the West Indies and not in America, as a black person, I was compelled to check it out.  Right after this was scheduled to end, it would be time for the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment… Perfect! It wouldn’t start for a few hours, so I decided to attend some vaguely named short play that was about to start on an outdoor stage.  I had no idea what it was going to be about.

As the time drew near, people gathered on benches around the plain wooden stage under a sparse canopy of trees.  I sat in the front row.  Just as everyone settled in, out of nowhere, a rough looking white man in a wide hat and dirty white shirt, holding a rifle carried a young black woman by the arm onto the stage.  She wore a nice yet plain blue housedress covered by an apron… she was a house slave.   He takes her to her place and disdainfully unhands her before turning to leave.  “‘Scuse me, Sir!  When will my babies be commin’ here to be with me?” she desperately asks him with a slave accent.  “Soon.” the overseer says flatly and leaves.

Three other slaves, a woman and two men, whom she knows, are also brought on stage.  It’s apparent that they are in a holding cell to be sold on the auction block, off their plantation.  The mother’s two young boys will soon be joining her in the cell, also be sold.  Her friend, the other female slave, tries to ease her mind that there is hope someone would buy all three of them together and not break up her family.  The mother is still deathly frightened.

One of the male slaves, possessing a rebellious spirit, discouraged the soothsaying between the women and told the mother to accept the reality of what is about to take place… her children would most likely be sold away from her.  The friend starts to see his point of view.  She looks into the mother’s eyes and calmly says, “When your children get here, you have to talk to them.  I know it’s gonna be hard, but you got to let them know what’s gonna happen.”  To which the mother cries, “All they know is this plantation! All they know is me…” her voice trails off.  I saw the anguish streak across her face. “I know, but you got to be strong for your boys.  You’re gonna have to tell them calm and then say your good byes.  Have faith in God.” The friend advises.

The rebellious slave turns his attention to the other male in the cell and picks a fight with him because he failed to hold up his end of the bargain in an escape plot the night before, resulting in both of them being captured and put up for auction.   Just as the two men’s quarrel was about to reach the boiling point, the overseer returns.  He’s accompanied by his armed second to assist him in handling the slaves.  “All of y’all! It’s time to go!” the overseer barks.  Everyone lines up except the mother.  She jumps up, rushes to the front and asks him, “My babies… where are my babies?”  The overseer (annoyed and impatient) says, “What? We done sold them already!”  The mother gasps.  Struck down by shock and loss, she faints, causing her body to fall forward towards the overseer.  “Get up off of me!” he yells in disgust and pushes her away with his arm.  She tumbles off the stage, rolls on the grass and lands just inches from my feet.  Part of her dress rode up, exposing the bottom of her bloomers.  Her friend comes to her aid and helps her up as she sobs into her breast.

Everyone is lead out of the cell to their awaiting fate, in the distance no longer be seen.  The plain wooden stage is left bare. No formal closing, the play had ended as abruptly as it had started.  The audience fell silent and remained seated in bewilderment, trying to absorb what they have just witnessed.  I was left broken and wept.

After I collected myself, I roamed around Revolutionary City in a daze.  I visited some shops, but didn’t buy anything.  The time was getting close for my slave tour.  It was across the city and I didn’t want to walk, so I decided to use the free shuttle service.  I met a middle-aged black couple with their teenagers while waiting at the shuttle stop.  I’ve seen them around the day before.  We nodded at each other in acknowledgment as we passed by on a wooded path… as if we were in a secret club.  The same thing happens whenever I pass by another person with dreadlocks.  I wonder if white people do the same thing.

We struck up a conversation, telling the couple about the play I had just seen and the powerful impact it had.  “Nah, I’m not going to see that! I’m not going to work myself up and get angry around here!” the husband said in a half joking tone.  But, I knew he was serious at his core.  I couldn’t blame him for passing on such an emotionally raw exhibition.  I know, first hand, that the line between making peace with the past and being completely consumed with rage is a broken fence.

I made it just in time for the slave tour.  A group of people sat in an enclosed area under a tree.  There was a slave woman at the gate and I had shown her my pass to join the others.  Looking around, I saw that it was a diverse group of people, both black and white families of varying ages and classes. The benches we sat on were nothing more than logs on the ground in a circle formation.  In the center of that circle was a tall and robust field hand who was slowly pacing around and waiting for any remaining stragglers to arrive.  By his side, were a few tree stumps with a stack of papers and curious artifacts on top of them.  We waited patiently for his presentation to start.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!” he said looking around his audience.  “I’m a an African-American historian and I’m here to give you a glimpse into the everyday life of American slaves.” He continued.  The field hand’s casual yet commanding presence had everyone perked up in their seat.   “It’s good that you’re all enjoying your time here at Colonial Williamsburg and experiencing some patriotic pride in our American heritage.”   Was he reading my mind?  He went on, “All of that is important, but there is another side to this story and that is slavery.”  He continued with his presentation, passing around copies of wanted posters for runaway slaves and Victorian photos of people with whip-scared backs.  Afterwards he passed around replicas of black iron tools used to keep people in bondage: shackles, locks, and spiked neck collars… used to “break” the most willful of Negroes.  The replicas were heavy, cold, and dreadful to hold in my hands.

Paper Clipping

Paper Clipping

Whip scars of a slave

Whip scars of a slave

Afterwards, he went on to explain the next segment of his presentation, “We will now begin the tour.  This will be a hands-on type of thing… How it was like to be a slave.  When slaves were called to work early in the morning, they weren’t treated with any type of respect.  They weren’t spoken to nicely.  It’s time to head out to work in the tobacco fields.”  Then something in the air quickly shifted.  “Now, git up… I says, GIT UP!” he shouted as the shackles made a clanking noise in his hand.  We were startled and all glanced at each other before quickly raising to our feet.

The field hand walked us out to the tobacco fields.  He assigned each of us a plant and ordered us to inspect under each leaf for any insects and eggs.   Whatever was found, we were to grind them up between our fingers. This was very important because they could destroy the leaves and each leaf was money for the master.  We had to be very careful not to break a leaf because that would warrant a whipping.  The same if the overseer checked our work and saw any bugs or eggs left behind.  Since the plants were short, we had to bend over to do our job… after a few minutes, it started to get very uncomfortable for my thighs and back.  And then it started to rain!  Everyone started to straighten up, intending to leave and take cover somewhere.  “Keep working! Slaves don’t get to sit out from the rain!” he ordered sternly.  We did what he said and kept tending to the tobacco… in the rain.  This went on for only fifteen or twenty minutes, but it felt much longer.  I couldn’t do this all day, everyday.  I just couldn’t.

Tobacco Fields

Explaining as it was

Explaining as it was

When we were done, he told us how Thomas Jefferson had a tobacco farm just like this one.  He went on to explain that Jefferson wrote in his journal that he had some profitable years and some lean years in selling his crops.  He bragged that whenever he had a lean year, he would easily recover his business losses by simply selling off one or two of his female slaves at a handsome profit.  We all just stood there, silent.

The field hand finally took us to the slave house, where slaves slept.  It seemed like a nice enough little cottage, until we were told that it usually housed up to 15 slaves!  He explained that it was usual for overseers to lock them all in at night so they wouldn’t escape or take revenge on their masters at the big house.

Slave House

Slave House

Hearth and root storage

Hearth and root storage

Stairs to the attic

Stairs to the attic

Sexual exploitation of female slaves by overseers and masters were a common thing.  I asked him where did these atrocious occurrences usually take place since there was no privacy in the house.  He explained that it was not uncommon for these rapes to be committed in the presence of other slaves in the house, including the children.  This was the fact from the tour that I have found most disturbing.

Everything came to a close and he shared some things for us to put in perspective.  “Our forefathers, though noble, were what we call today the 1%.  If you lived back then, chances are they wouldn’t even talk to you.  The average white during the revolutionary period was illiterate, working-class, and just a step or two above a slave.  They didn’t have a voice to rise up, either.  They were too busy trying to keep their six or seven children fed.  It’s about money!” he casually declared.  “The establishment found ways to keep both whites and blacks slaves in the South, into the 1950’s.  That’s what systems like sharecropping and Company stores were all about!”  Older people in the group (who may have remembered these times) nodded in agreement.  Understanding that most Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck and enslaved by debt, the past still rings true today.

In closing he continued, “Have pride in your country and honor our forefathers for the good that they have done, but never forget the truth and the contributions made by the slaves and others who have toiled and suffered. If not for them, these men wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.  Black or white, know that you are descendants of survivors… they were some tough people!”

End of the line

End of the line

Afterwards, most of the people approached him to shake his hand in gratitude and to ask more questions.  Participating in this tour, we were broken down and built up again with a new perspective.  For reasons one may have deduced, I was no longer in the mood to attend the Meeting with a Forefather presentation and left… with my patriotism still intact, less my idealism.

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!

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.

1010515_4679080225365_638802984_n

1001823_4679830404119_2071948115_n

7282_4679707001034_1997680405_n

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!

Dearest Pennsylvania

1012106_4669536986790_1857696921_n

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!

1000790_4669542786935_727702285_n

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.

2369_sm_tabernacle

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!

954834_4669534786735_1258309450_n

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!

CAM00156

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?

CAM00161

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!

Sex and the Single Camper

Picture 12

Valentine’s Day has recently come and gone.  What could be more befitting than the subject of the above title?  I’ve always been a true romantic, though not always an optimistic one.  Some may be surprised to know that when I decided to become an RV-living gypsy, I gave very little thought about having a love life.  I guess it was for a good reason.  In the four and a half years I’ve been single, I have had not one long-term relationship.  This is not by choice, though relationship gurus and teachers of the Law of Attraction may tell you otherwise.  Maybe I’m still holding on to deep issues from my messed up childhood.  Could it be that I’m not visualizing Mr. Gypsy with enough focus and faith to bring him forth into my life?  Erm… No.  I want a relationship.

Though there may be some truth to the above, I honestly believe having (and keeping) someone good in one’s life has a strong element of luck, timing, and circumstance at the heart of it.  It is the hand of fate.  But, I digress.   I didn’t consider the issue of dating when making my decision to be a nomad because my luck with men has been beyond disappointing (i.e. shitty).

After a lot of fruitless Internet first dates and relationship false starts, I’ve grown to accept my hand.  I have to share that Internet dating is a horrible way to meet someone.  In the online world, people tend to have a shopping cart approach to finding a mate.  A date becomes more expendable because three more dates can easily be scheduled that week.  That guy or gal you’re really hitting it off with keeps any sort of commitment with you at arm’s length because there is a bigger and better deal a click away.  These Picky Pickers fail to realize that it is just as difficult meeting someone special online as it is meeting someone randomly on the street!  Online dating only gives the illusion that there are countless numbers of people that you can happily be well matched with.  Having said that, I do have four friends who have met their spouses this way, but there are also people who win the lottery.  I sometimes wonder if becoming a gypsy is a way for me to prepare for a life alone… an exciting, fulfilling and adventurous life, but most likely, alone.

What I didn’t consider with this lifestyle was how potential suitors would perceive me.  I realized that many men may associate women and vans with EASY SEX.  At the dealership where I work, some men have dubbed Eunice as the Shaggin’ Waggin’.  I was even asked, in jest, if I had “Christened” my van yet.  I wasn’t offended by this question, as I was also wondering when that would happen!  Though they are being playful, I can’t help but ponder if at the heart of their folly, they perceive women with vans (especially vans with beds) as more “sexually accessible”.   I feel that I’m no more or less accessible than any other and truth be told, I’m a healthy woman and have needs.

With dating, I find there are adjustments I have to make.  By adjustments I mean defenses.  Months ago, I was on the phone with a older successful gentleman that I was set up with by a mutual friend.  He asked me the awkward question, “Where do you live?”   I jokingly told him that I live “everywhere” and how I moved into my camper van.  He chuckled in a fatherly way and asked if our friend knew that I was doing this… as if I was in some sort of trouble.  Though he seemed okay with it, I realized not every man would be comfortable with the way I live.  I passed on meeting him in person, but from our conversation, I decided not to talk about my lifestyle until I knew that my date would be cool with it.  Also, it’s a good practice in safety to hold off on giving that piece of information until trust is established.  Though I have an alarm system and an NRA sticker on the back of my rig, why invite trouble?

I want to be a gypsy, but I also would like to have a meaningful relationship.  Since most people have a traditional home, I would most likely be expected to settle down if I meet someone worth while.  However, I can’t alter my plans for someone who may not come into my life… or worse, someone who does.  God forbid someone comes into my life for the sole karmic purpose of bungling up my plans!

For the first time in my life, I fear finding the relationship I want.   Since day one, I asked myself, “What happens if I meet someone within the three months that I am giving myself to leave Connecticut?”  I didn’t dwell too much on it because, seriously, what are the chances?  I do recognize that my needs and desires push and pull me in different directions. This life stuff is complicated.

I figured I should actively find a way to merge my gypsy lifestyle with finding a life partner.  Maybe I could go online and join groups to find another vandweller to whom I can be suitably mated.   It makes perfect sense, but I think I’ll pass on that idea.  Forgive my prejudices when I say that I believe many men who choose the nomadic lifestyle (with the exception of men who are under 25, divorced, or jumped in with a wife or girlfriend) are either gay, confirmed bachelors, or eccentric loners.  Since the main biological goal of men is to attract women, most wouldn’t choose this lifestyle if having one in their life for a permanent relationship were a priority.

I figure I’ll keep things joyfully open-ended by traveling the U.S. and perhaps meet someone along the way, maybe “settling down” if the things worked out.  After all, it’s a big country out there!  If not, I’ll continue on with my gypsy ways.  I have tried to guide fate’s hand my moving my online dating profile to parts of the country that I’m interested in exploring.  However, I admit this was done mostly out of curiosity to see which parts of the U.S. I was considered most attractive.  Not surprisingly, it was not in my own state!

Though my online excursion was mostly experimental, I did connect with an interesting man named John* in Ohio (my most popular state).  From what I could tell, we shared many of the same values and beliefs.   This appealed to me because most men I happen to meet tend to be agnostic/atheist and have values opposite from my own… I tend to skew towards “Midwestern”.  He had no problem temporarily carrying on a long distance relationship and he was open to moving outside of his state. We spoke on the phone for a week before deciding to video chat on Skype.

The Saturday we were to chat, I broke from my usual weekend schedule and set up my laptop at Dunkin’ Donuts for our 3pm date.  Though a plain Jane, I made sure I wore makeup and had my hair back so he could easily see my features.  I rarely use Skype, so I made sure the speakers and microphone worked and that the webcam was well positioned.  I was ready!

At around 2:55pm, in walked two men.  Like all of the other patrons coming in and out, I barely noticed them.  They were the opposite of each other in appearance, stature and bearing.  The first man was tall, fair, with a robust build and carried himself with a slow and steady confidence.  The second man was dark, much shorter, with a compact body that was controlled by quick sharp movements.  The first man picked up his order and turned away from the counter.   I looked up from my laptop and his eyes met mine, lingering longer than a passing glance.  I saw that he was ruggedly handsome.   He said hello and I returned his greeting as he sat down at the next table facing me.  I put on my headphones and continued with setting up my video call.   He insisted on starting a conversation with me anyway.

His name was Beau*, an avid outdoorsman who has hiked and camped all over the U.S.  One of the things that impressed me most was that he enjoys camping, even in the dead of winter… that’s pretty hardcore.  We talked for hours until his friend dragged him out of the shop.  He asked me out for a date before he left and I accepted.  Beau called me up an hour later and we went out to a dinner and a movie that very night! That was a month ago and we’ve been spending time together almost everyday ever since.  I have also come to know that not only does he have a love of nature and travel, but he is also in touch with his spirituality and has reverence for God.

I can say that I’ve had a beautiful Valentine’s Day!  Perhaps I should take back what I said about going online to find love.  After all, I have met someone special while on an Internet date!   Jest and butterflies aside, what now of my gypsy plans?  Oh, that hand of fate.

*Name changed to protect the innocent and infamous.