Dearest Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Water-powered Mill

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

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Tabernacle Replica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next… Gettysburg!

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

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

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Pink Slipped!

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Last week Wednesday, I got laid off.  I wasn’t especially surprised since Tim*, the COO hired the web marketing services of Mr. Smythe* (a former employee) as a consultant a few months back.   I was to work directly with him as he undertook some of my key responsibilities.

It was the day of my weekly one on one meeting with Tim and he emailed me to meet with him at 11AM instead of 2:30pm.  Moving up meetings at a whim was usual for Tim, so I didn’t think anything of it.  I enthusiastically walked in his office carrying a new poster I designed for our dealership.  Then I noticed the HR Administrator sitting off to the side of his desk.  Tim sprouted up to greet me at the door, which he quickly closed behind me.  “Hey, I have some bad news to tell you”, he said in his usual chipper tone.  He continued behind me before I sat down, “We have to lay you off.  Your position has been terminated.”  I always knew that would be the excuse used if they wanted to fire me since my work reviews were great.

Tim is not your typical COO, or at least, what I think of one to be.  He’s jovial, lighthearted and funny enough to hold his own against any stand up comic.   His composure suddenly changed when he sat across the desk from me.  Tim’s eyes were moist and his voice barely carried over with a less than solid timber.  “With Mr. Smythe here, we just didn’t have enough work for you.  I’m sorry.”, he said as he gave me a soft paternal look with his dark Irish eyes… I remembered that same look when he told me my job would be safe just two months earlier.

In the car business, it’s not only the automobiles that are lean and mean.  It’s good to make and keep money, but is there a line to be crossed when dealing with people? When everything comes down to black and white on a financial report, the facts are cold.  It’s one more thing that makes me realize that having love in one’s life is more important than ever.

I was actually relieved by getting canned because I originally planned to leave my job around this time of year.  However, I was starting to get complacent in my position.  I was relocated out of the Petri Dish and moved into a bright, spacious office with my two favorite co-workers.  More importantly, I have become closer to Beau and wasn’t sure how to go forward with what I wanted to do.   In my comfort, I was going to defer my dream another six months.  Obviously, the universe had other plans.  Funny enough, I secretly wished to be laid off months ago and now it has happened.  Perhaps I inadvertently used the “power of imagination”, as prescribed in Neville Goddard’s Resurrection (which predates The Secret).

My unemployment benefits, though modest, are just enough for me to live on… having no rent has its advantages.  Now, I’m finally free to go full nomad and hit the road!  I have a year to play with, I mean, use constructively… Yeah, that’s it.  Maybe, while I’m looking for another 9 to 5 <SMILE>, I’ll  volunteer** around in order to “enrich” my life as I travel.

Meeting Beau made me think about where I’d like to nest and set up a home base.  Getting a good patch of land to live off the grid appeals to me.  I want to live in a place that is warm year round, feeds my sense of adventure, and has small government ideals.   I have my eye on Texas!

Beau, luckily, also has a gypsy spirit and open to being a full-time RVer.  Coincidentally,  his mother and two sisters recently decided to move to Texas with their families.  Seriously, what were the chances?!  Safe to say that Beau is open to settling down there, as well.  There goes God’s invisible hand again.

Rejection stings, but I turned that frown upside down because I quickly realized that a pink slip is a gypsy’s best friend… Oh, sweet, sweet FREEDOM!

Side Note: Happy Mother’s Day!

* *On the D.L. legal tip: That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Sex and the Single Camper

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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.