Day 60- The South

“So, how do you feel about the way things are going these days?”

I usually say when asked, (and believe me with a California plate, I am getting asked,) that I am tired of politics, tired of watching my country flounder and flail while people who have been taught to stay on their side of a fictitious fence sit and throw barbs at one another. Or if I’m pressed for time, “I don’t trust any of ‘em. Politicians are rarely out for the people and are usually out for themselves.”

This approach seems to be working thus far. But I still am aware of many a steely eye looking at me with an unpleasant glint reflecting a thought; “You know I could push you on this further, right?”  It’s only gone past the glance once, I stood my ground and walked away bored and unsettled. A waste of my time especially since I don’t believe in an afterlife; every moment of my life is all the more precious.

So many folk are out there yelling at each other and I’m over here wondering, “Hey, what’s this state like? Anybody got room for us? Want to talk about food? Going to Mars? Read any good books lately? What did you think about this one? Where have you travelled to? Did you like it?

‘Round here it’s all about God and guns. The radio stations consist of at least five varieties of folk singing their hearts out to or about Jesus. Not to mention the billboards selling God. And Guns.  And confederate flags.  I shit you not I have seen shops selling “starts & bars” right next to crosses and bullets. (I’m waiting for the Confederate flag cross-shaped ammo carrier because that would be like winning some sort of “Souther Trifecta” or something.)

I am decidedly ambivalent about guns though I was taken a little aback when the mechanic who was giving us a lift mentioned in conversation, “my gun goes with me everywhere,”  and I realized he was carrying. The very prosaic side I no doubt owe most of my survival to took this in stride. I shrugged in reply to this along with a non-answer along the lines of, “Well, if you feel the need, then that’s what’s going to happen” or some such. Honestly I wasn’t really that bothered. I suppose I should have been, but at that point all I cared about was getting the van moving again, getting a cold drink (it was 111 out) and finding a place to stay that wouldn’t break the bank.

The fuck-it factor was high that day. Has been ever since, really. Because it just keeps happening.

There was a  family we were hanging out in a random motel, kids in the pool, the adults sharing their beers and tips on sustainable living. We were getting along well and then they were very politely asking me if the gun on the nightstand (on top of the BIBLE, no less,) was offensive in any way. Thinking quickly of Ducky playing with their three children outside, I honestly replied, “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but it might scare my boy a little.”

Nothing but the truth.

I have been around gun-culture before, back when one could walk into a bar in Arizona and throw one’s gun down on the table to talk about it’s fine points with others present. I have fired weapons, both at backwood fence posts, and at long distance targets on a rifle range.

The only thing Ducky knows about guns is what he sees in the movies and on TV. Not watching the news he only has the vaguest sort of clue that he lives in the only country in the world that regularly has mass shootings. I’m not sure he fully understands why he has grown up with “lock-down” drills. Earthquake drills are what I remember. But then again my mother grew up with a decidedly different “duck & cover” program.

If we move here, I will take him out to a range and show him what we live with. Not because I’m pro or con but because like the overly abundant mosquitoes, they seem to be something we are going to have to learn to live with. I’d rather he not freeze up in terror at his first sighting of one. He will learn the rules and if a family doesn’t seem to know them he will get his ass home.

Alive, hopefully.

There is also truth to the statement I just made to my friend this week, “The people we have met have nearly all been gun-toting, God-fearing, conservative rednecks who would drop everything to help us in an emergency.” But then again I took certain bumper stickers off and don’t say a lot to make waves. I fear what might happen if I did.

On the other hand, it sure is nice to walk around in an area where everyone says Hello with a wave and a smile. From the smallest backwood town, to campground to small gas station stop, I haven’t had anyone glance over or past me. There are friendly waves and smiles from porches and rusted out trucks. And they are genuine. It baffles me how people with hearts so filled with kindness and grace can turn so quickly into angry, desperate folk.

These people confound me.

But I sure do like ‘em.

Hopefully I won’t get shot.

Forever and ever, Amen.

(Says the non-theist, queer, ½ mexican, charity accepting, single mother from California. Heh.)

 

Day 55

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and surprisingly not stressed out, considering it was well after when I’d hoped to leave. I was realizing that my body’s demand for sleep clearly outweighed any need to get on the road quickly. This calm moment of zen lasted approximately three minutes, when I discovered that my phone was dead. Completely and utterly non-responsive. I had plugged it in all night but it was gone. I tried two other outlets and had no luck in getting a “okay, I’ll charge now” symbol. Going out to the van I tried one last time to no avail and then started quietly catastrophizing. Walking around flapping from these experiences, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that the huge bag of “dry” clothes the kids had brought back from the laundry room last night were still wet.  

My moment of serenity was rapidly changing to borderline psychosis.

There was one goal for today. One. “We are going to see the Atlantic to make our ‘cross-country’ tagline official!’ I had said cheerily when picking CJ up. Oh yes; CJ. Those of you who are following our Twitter and Facebook have no doubt noticed a sudden addition to our little team, my 16 year old has joined us and will be along for the return leg to California. Say hello CJ!

“Are we there yet?”

Well, isn’t this going to be fun.

Anywho, after getting on the road about five hours later than expected we ended up fielding gas stations without power, misdirections, (twice,) and at some point my phone started charging again very very very slooooowwly. Ick.

We finally found Virgina Beach on the map and I realized that I wasn’t quite all that safe to drive. Like shaking and blurry-eyed and exhausted. The perfect time to go through a several mile long tunnel and across several bridges over bays we couldn’t name. There were two accidents and during the stop-and-go Asterix* (We finally named the damn van,) let us know that she was PISSED.

We ended up running the heater for the last six miles.

*********

I didn’t know Virginia Beach was on an island.

Where I grew up and island was something seen off the coast in the distance that one only got to see if a boat was acquired and loins girded. Santa Barbara’s channel has been called one of the roughest in the world and though there are many lovely pleasant days out on the water, there are more of the, “Hey, do you get seasick?” variety.

So we’re now on the island in a KOA the size of Disneyland with humidity so strong I feel like I’m taking a spit shower from God. Gross.

I have read the riot act to the boys about getting to bed early, and am teaching them Seven Dragons.

The dog just walked through the game.

Time for bed.

 

Day ???

I have decided I am quite possibly the worst travel blogger ever. I set out with the fantasy that I would be able to present wonderful word pictures of our travels replete with pithy observations and deep moments of wisdom.

In lieu of this, the ugly truth has revealed itself; I am simply not able to write anything after a long day on the road. I don’t even so much as glance at my laptop. Instead I hurl myself upon the bench seat in the van. I don’t even bother to convert it into a bed anymore. Or change. Or brush my teeth. I bathe with wet wipes. (And yet again I fortify my position of being single forever.)

Our days look something like this: Get up early. Or rather, plan to get up early. Then wake up and, depending on the position of the sun, either flap a bit or go into full blown panic mode. Continue freaking out while shovelling food at offspring while grabbing a plain, usually bitter cup of coffee for myself. (As this is usually from a campsite or truck stop, it’s often got undertones of bark, rubber, diesel and asphalt in varied combinations.)

We then drive for 2 hours with a reminder set warning us that the van will die at some point soon. Sometimes we time it right. More often than not, we sit at the side of the road snarling at one another in the hot sun until I either give in and call AAA, or we try our luck and start the process again.

After 12:30 we begin our routine of running the A/C for precious moments at a time, turning it off at the merest hint of a grade. By 2pm we have to cut it off completely. We can have A/C or drive. You have no doubt worked out our choice.

We keep mini spray bottles filled with chilled water, (well at least they were chilled back when our fridge was still working,) by our seats. At some point one of us will yell, “Mist!” as a plea for some small measure of relief. We spray, feel better for approximately 45 seconds and then chug from lukewarm bottles.  At one point we bought a small thermometer, curious to see exactly what our condition was. We have since hidden it away by unspoken mutual agreement. Apparently knowing that we were literally driving in 100 degree heat was too depressing to bear.

Our lunches depend on what stage of overheating we are at. If the van has us stranded we often end up with beef jerky, granola bars, apples and crackers . (There used to be cheese. I miss cheese. Oh My God. CHEESE.)  If we are at an unexpected but not completely dead stop, it’s PB&J. We have had a LOT of PB&J. I’m not sure if after this summer I will be able to even smell peanut butter again.

I don’t want to admit how often lunch has been Dairy Queen. This is most often funded by the copious amounts of spare change we keep discovering in the van. Not to mention on the ground at campsites and in motel rooms. I owe a huge thanks to all of you with loose pockets. I cannot for the life of me fathom how Ducky and I have both lost 15lbs while on a diet that has repeatedly consisted of sugar sticks, ice cream and light snacks. I guess that guy was right.

I know you’ve read that we also get to stay with friends. And I always think when pulling into a new driveway, “Oh, isn’t this wonderful? I’ll finally get to mail those postcards, check in with family, find out about my mail, post to the damn blog…”

But when I’m staying with my friends I don’t want to write I want to do.

I am aware that I sound like a recalcitrant child when I say this, but my older and sulkier inner teenager makes it all better by not giving a shit.

I have discovered a true way to reverse the aging process. Somewhere after all the driving the adult gets burned away and I am left with a brain committee of no one over 22.

If only my body would come along for the ride.

On that note, I have to say I like the muscle tone I’m developing on my arms. Due to a combination of driving, along with the hefting of bags, boxes and dog, I am rediscovering my strength. My skin is also a quiet joy. I have burned, peeled, tanned and repeated enough that my skin has taken on a soft, “god-dammit I forgot to use sunscreen AGAIN” glow. It looks good, though I have to put ideas of skin cancer out of my head.

The aforementioned weight loss is of course welcome, however since Ducky and I were the same size upon setting out, this means that our shared shorts are now WAY too big. Declan had a pair fall down on him while he was darting up some stairs and the perfect “Oh” of surprise on his face will be engraved in my memory until the day I die.

It’s a good thing I brought belts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 38

On the convenience of beauty.

During my last breakdown (the van, not my psyche) I had the epiphany that 20 years ago, were I stuck in traffic in the middle of the road, there would be no question about receiving help from passing motorists. I would merely have had to exit my vehicle. Picture it; long hair flowing, makeup on fleek, the figure of a typical young goddess and likely with a bit of leg/cleavage showing.  I would have been immediately aided by every straight male within eyesight.

Now short-haired, makeup abandoned due to no A/C, my skin having deciding the best reaction to heat and stress is to rash out on me, (mostly on my once prized legs,) my figure is a bit rotund and any cleavage showing is usually by mistake.

Things have definitely changed.

I honestly like myself better now than I did back then. My self-esteem and confidence have risen to the point where I am very comfortable going out and being myself during the day to day. But I must say, I miss the convenience of beauty. The ability to take for granted the fact that people would be helpful when I needed it. The lack of fear of running into problems because of the nearly subconscious expectation of the knight/damsel response.

This came strongly into focus when I broke down in an intersection and hopped out to push my van after throwing her in neutral. Now granted, I didn’t emerge from my vehicle looking like a flowery helpless waif. There was no waffling, no tears, and certainly no size six making me look about 17 years old. Nope. There was 160lb woman wearing a trucker’s cap, busting out screaming “Goddamit!” while kicking the van and cussing more for good measure.

Now that I think about it, maybe the many men sitting around in pickup trucks were too scared to get out and help.

Or maybe the “help the lady out” relex only occurs when the heat index is below 90 degrees (it was over 100, after all.)

Once I finally was able to maneuver my ¾ ton vehicle over to the gas station, it occurred to me to take stock. Maybe a little lipstick? Perhaps jeans to cover the rash? Maybe a wig? A part of me sat back and judged these thoughts with scorn, “What kind of a feminist ARE you??” Another part was realistic, “We’ve read about this countless times, from all kinds of women across cultures and timelines. This is nothing new.” A third part of me was pretty much thinking, “Would you two just shut up? I’m dealing with a mechanical crisis right now and don’t have time for this.”

I’m not sure when I hit the other side. I saw it coming, and am not sure when I arrived. At some point I think it will flip back, perhaps when my hair goes white.  Then I will again hear the, “…need a little help there, Ma’am?” The Ma’am of course replacing the Miss that would have been there before.

Until then, I’m gonna have to work this out.

It was convenient, dammit. It was useful, and finding it suddenly gone is like reaching into your toolkit for something you know you had and discovering not only do you not have one anymore, they’ve stopped making them.

At our last KOA I saw a woman frantically applying makeup in the bathroom. She was a mother travelling with three young children by herself. I smiled at her broadly, admiring her determination to get her full face on when I had just decided to skip the routine again.

Glancing back at her, it struck me that she would still get the response I hadn’t. Her long blond hair, legs up to there, and perfect figure would likely aid her far more than AAA ever could.

I expected this thought to arrive with some jealousy but was met with merely amusement, like knowing a secret that you really can’t share yet.

So here’s to the women on both sides of this reality. I love you all and celebrate all of our beauty.

 

(While missing the damn convenient kind.)

 

Day 36

Evening

I am leaning up against my van, looking up at big white fluffy cotton-ball clouds.

There is a very confused rooster crowing, while the wind moves between being a stiff breeze to the run-after-your-hat-cursing kind.

There is green everywhere. Trees, fields, grass. It’s an astounding amount of color after what feels likes weeks of desert.

I am having an amazingly peaceful moment after what felt like a biblical trial of a day.

My windshield wiper blades have been repaired and replaced. Hector, the proprietor of the RV park we have landed at, is a former Texas law officer. I am decided that this might be why the local shop had my parts after hours AND personally delivered them.

Hector also does minor repairs on many of the RV’s that come through. We didn’t tackle the main engine issue, (though thanks to many of our Facebook readers, we have a pretty good idea of what the problem is,) however he was able to figure out the loose fuse that’s been leading to our lighting issues. Took him about two hours, only charged me for an hours worth of work.

My face is covered in the leftover grime of salt, sweat, tears and rain.

I smell.

I’m fairly certain a microbiologist would be interested in all the gunk under my nails.

Just a few hours ago, Ducky and I were sitting in hundred degree heat with a lazy bee flying in and out of the van. We were again dead in the water and wondering just what the hell we were doing out here.

A short while after that, we were driving through first a dust storm with zero visibility and then an actual tempest. Thunder, lighting, blinding rain. There was a strike 30 feet up that hit a telephone pole sending up sparks, and screams from yours truly.

The drivers side wiper was in tatters. The wind was so fierce I got muscle cramps in my arms and we were both fairly certain we were going to be blown off the road.

Due to the fact that we have also been having engine problems, every time we slowed down, we held our breath and begged our girl not to quit.

This anxiety about the van suddenly dying combined with the brand new fear of the storm created a singularity of terror.

Really glad to be through all that.

Grace, Hector’s wife, just sent Ducky off to bed with two pieces of chocolate cake. “One for now, one for breakfast.”

Princess has eaten, and in spite of bizarre weather has done her business outside.

The calm of this moment is making me drowsy.

Sleep beckons.

I heed the call while accompanied by the sounds of distant thunder. As Hector said before wishing us goodnight, “This storm ain’t done with us yet.”

Bring it.

Day 35

I awoke this morning realizing that I have to drive to beat the heat and nearly started to cry. I am so achy and sore it hurts to go to the john.

We’ve lost some canned food to the heat. Went to pull out our dinner last night and found dents I don’t recall being there and I’m not sure if we can eat ‘em.

I managed to back up and knock off one of the dumping pipes to the van. It’s currently sitting in the toilet wrapped up in plastic bags and I’m trying not to think about it.  We also appear to have no dashboard lights when the headlights are on, which is absolutely terrifying when driving at night. We are about to drive through TX where it’s going to be about 12 hours before we know a living, breathing soul.

The dog had a foxtail deeply burrowed into her paw and I am not sure I got it all out. She was completely clingy all evening from being left in the kennel and my guilt was nearly insurmountable. (Ducky bravely announced he would skip promised swim time in the pool to stay with her. I still can’t believe that happened.)

Today is one of those days I Have Doubts.

I have been so excited. Brightly talking about our adventures, knowing we sound insane; going back east, through the south, coming back to California and then hopefully getting the job in SC and heading back again. (It is necessary to come back to CA to modify my custody order, even though Ducky’s daddy hasn’t said boo to him since he was two.)

I still believe, It’s just that today my hopes are dimmed.

This trip has been a strange reminder of just what it means to be a single parent. The word “we” has taken on a weird double meaning I’m starting to resent.  Every other “we” I’ve met has meant a traditional family and I’m dying of envy. Not the “husband and wife part,” (Or husband/husband, grandparents + brood, etc.,) no. I’m jealous of one simple factor: Two (or more!) Goddamned Licensed Drivers.

Oh the joy of being tired and having the ability to swap with somebody! I can hardly imagine it. Oh wait. Yes I can. In fact I’ve been practicing. I’m actually very good at imagining that, if I do say so myself…

Then again, when I realistically try to picture doing this trip with another adult it stretches my excellent imagination to the breaking point. I’ve never had to share parenting duties with another person. I am not certain I how to have healthy conversations about things or even how to productively fight. This last makes me fear for Ducky because without an example set, how will he learn? I don’t want him to grow up, fall in love and not know what the hell to do when there is a disagreement.

 

Yup. Like I said. Doubts.

 

I need to remember that I am aching all over from the fantastic explorations that we took part in yesterday.

That the canned food can be replaced and it was just a small portion of our stores. (Though I would trade my soul for a freakin’ Trader Joe’s ya’ll. Seriously.)

There are RV repair stops/shops and I’m sure to find one if need be. Not to mention that the dumping pipe we lost for for the toilet which we have never used. We also don’t tend to drive at night. Like ever.

The dog will be okay.

The kid will be okay.

I will be okay.

I am feeling the fear and doing stuff anyway. Off to another time zone today. Damn, Texas looks huge.

 

Day 24

 

Ducky and I have been cramming like a pair of chronically last minute students the night before the big test. Forced to buckle down due to extenuating circumstances we are pleased to announce, “Houston, we have a route!”

It was a fairly simple process. We opened the Atlas. At last. It’s been sitting all shiny and new in the van for several days looking like a wallflower at the big dance; all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Running our fingers along the bottom of the U.S. section, we came up with a list of states we will need to traverse. “Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina*, North Carolina, Virginia*, Maryland.” We chanted these in a sing-song, revelling in familiar yet strange names.

“Okay Ducky. We have 28 days to get to Centreville Virginia. The maps say that’s about 2800 miles. I’m planning for 3500 miles to provide extra time for Shiny & Squirrel. How many miles a day MINIMUM does that come out to? I don’t want to drive more than 6 hours a day if possible.”

Ducky, “HUH?”

“Get the calculator.”

“Oh.”

A few moments later…

“Okay mom, it looks like we would have to go about 125 miles a day or two hours or so to get there. I have no idea how to calculate for 6 hours a day though. Why six hours a day? Will we still go to the Grand Canyon? What is in New Orleans? How will we…”

“Please. Stop.”

“Okay.”

So, now to the nitty-gritty. Clearly we aren’t going to podunk along, taking our sweet time everywhere, especially because we want to be able to spend time in various locations with our friends who are hopefully still eagerly awaiting us. (As opposed to having given up on us all together. Did I mention I thought we’d be in Texas by now? Sorry y’all.)

Obviously some choices are going to have to be made. I am saddened to think that possibly cool areas will sped past as if hordes of zombies were the local attractions as opposed to huge balls of string or actual, giant forks on the road.

But since we have places to go and people to see, I know we will find a certain degree of balance if not a true happy medium.

Tonight we will be spending our final evening in Ramona, (our friends coincidentally making my favorite dish,) and heading to Yuma. I am excited and nervous (my usual combo) while looking very much forward to Ducky see a sign welcoming him to a new state for the first time.

See you on the flipside!