Monday, December 29, 2008

Where Did They Go?

The couple claimed they lived in a conversion van. That loose description applied to the late model van converted from vehicle to house by virtue of a mattress wedged into the rear seat area.

They parked in a campground, drawing my attention because they appeared to be living in their vehicle. At $33 a night it is cheaper than even the cheapest motel. Their view was priceless, a lake and mountain outside their window.

Their possessions fit inside their vehicles except for 2 camp chairs perched by the concrete "dining room" table, standard with each site. I'd see bath towels hung on the van door to dry, but little other signs of life. Their van remained parked while their nondescript sedan took off every day, to work? I wondered.

Since they were around a long time by transient campground standards I kept noticing them. It became painful awareness when temps dropped to the low 20s. I've slept in a car before, years ago as a situationally-impoverished college student in search of travel adventures. The 40 year time span doesn't erase the chill-to-the-bone memories.

The couple, fortunately sans children, were fairly invisible. I never saw their faces. When I had to leave my dream campsite for a more parking-lot-style spot I ended up just 100 yards away from the van-campers. Me, in the lap of modest luxury--with heat, water, space and soft chairs. My neighbors lacked all of that and more that I can only imagine.

For homelessness to be so close and me to not be able to do anything to help was frustrating. They didn't ask for help. I don't know if they needed anything, or perhaps I was projecting my guilt on their situation.

But they are gone now, disappeared in the past few days as I visited with family for the holidays. I can only hope their spartan camping experience led to an improved situation. They helped me remember why I'm doing what I'm doing--giving voice and visibility to homeless kids. Homelessness should disturb each one of us who live in luxury while so many lack the basics. I miss them....

Friday, November 28, 2008

Scrooge? Or Sensible?

Take this beautiful spot, plop in your RV, and that's all the decorating a person should need in my way of thinking.

Driving through the holiday-inflated campground tonight, with rain keeping the outside activities to a minimum, I was exposed to the other way of thinking--park the RV and hang holiday lights. Yikes!

I imagine most of these weekend invaders will be packing up their sparkly holiday lights, cruising by the dump, and heading home on Sunday. But for now they've turned this beautiful spot into Atlantic City boardwalk tacky.

Maybe they're lighting up "Black Friday" to lift everyone's spirits. At least the gas prices are cooperating, a boon for the RVers of this world, and a bust for the conservation mentality that was temporarily peeking its head out. I saw gas at $1.59, not a discount gas station either. It was more than that when I started off on this sojourn 3 years ago.

I'm all for shaking the pervasive doom-and-gloom that the media is wallowing in now. It's contagious, and if things are as bad as I imagine they are, we don't need a full-fledged lemming-like panic to make it worse.

Maybe those little lights are peoples' way of staving off the recession-inflation-deflation blues. For me, I'll just look out at this view and rejoice that no one can park between me and this spectacular view.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Almost Heaven!

After a grueling October, traveling to hither-and-yon, I'm parked in a divine spot.

What qualifies for "divine" according to this RV-er, starting her 4th cross-country trip? After crossing NY in an Oct. nor'easter, just about anything could be an improvement. But here are the top items on my list:

  • VIEW--I'm fine with parking lot stops, especially when it saves HEAR US dollars. But no comparing the side of a building with a lake, my current view, shown below. The view is my primo-perk!
  • UTILITIES--ok, I have to admit after my few days/nights parked (sans power) under the canopy of a DC hotel for the NAEHCY conference, I no longer take electricity for granted. My "current" spot offers not only power but water. It's been so long since I've had a direct water hook-up that I almost miss the sound of the pump.
  • CHEAP GAS--I know we pay for gas, and Tillie's high-octane footprint pains me. But so do artificially inflated gas prices that make a select few rich. On the way down here I encountered something I haven't seen since the beginning of my journey--gas for $1.96 a gallon (when using the gas card provided by my former Joliet student and friend Karen). I felt like I was stealing gas.
  • PEACE--It's an internal and external experience. The quiet and beauty of this setting does a lot to affect my internal peace of mind. OK, so does the result of our presidential election. I have a glimmer of hope.
  • MISC.--level counts for a lot! And easy access to propane refills and a dump. Toss in quality grocery stores nearby.
What RV perks do you hold dear?

Friday, October 17, 2008

August??!! You gotta be kidding!

I'm not an obsessive blogger, but when I found my latest RV blog was August I realized that I lost about 6 weeks somewhere in my crazy life. Gosh, hadn't I written ANYTHING??? since then???

A trickle of a memory started to come back--yes, you dork, you started a blog post about the kids who washed your gross RV. Oh yeah, I remember....and finished it.

Besides being on overload prior to my IL departure on October 7, I have an excuse for such lapses. My Dad died a week ago today, on 10/10. He was 88 and had lived a full life. The cancer and dementia was too much to overcome. It's a relief for all of us.

Bill was a funny guy--humorous and unconventional. He bought a camper--I vaguely remember it--back in the 60s. Mom said he just decided that it could be a good portable showroom for his gift business and bingo, he drove up to Indiana to get it.

I didn't see any pix of it as family rummaged through old photos in preparation for the memorial service. That would have been priceless. I guess he didn't keep it long. It probably proved to be a tad unwieldy as he lugged it behind his snazzy Cadillac.

Dad would always let you know if he approved of your choices, even if you didn't want/need his approval. When I was shaping my plan for HEAR US, my unconventional nonprofit venture to call attention to homeless families, I decided the only way to really do this was to get an RV, thus Tillie was purchased.

I didn't ask his blessing--or advice for that matter. I did talk to Mom about it and although she thought perhaps this was a little extreme, she stood back to let me follow my game plan. My first visit to their Atlanta area home three years ago was part of my maiden voyage--a learning experience to learn how to drive this big bus and to figure out the ABCs of RV camping.

My first state park was in Alabama (pix is the same park--Wind Creek). I drove westward out of Atlanta, watching the sky darken
as I raced to get to the park. As I neared the park Mom called and said they figured I was heading right into a band of nasty weather and that tornado warnings had been issued. She said Dad told me to head for a hotel. Yeah, right.

I managed to land on the site, figured out (sort of) the plug-in system, try in vain to hook up the hose, and sure enough the tornado siren wailed. Now what? my naive self thought.

I stuck my head out the door and the people in the next site hollered over to follow them to the bath house, a slightly sturdier--concrete block--structure not too far away. Not grabbing anything except my cell phone I headed over.

About 8 of us huddled together. A wise traveler brought a weather radio. The counties where the warning was in effect were listed. I was clueless as to the name of the city, much less the county. Some wiser person knew our county, and yes, we were included. In fact, a tornado had been sighted in our general area.

Yikes! All I could picture was Tillie floating in the adjacent lake. I'd have to call family for help. NO!!! Can't do that!

After about an hour we figured the danger was over and meandered back to our campers. It was dark--power failure--so I didn't see the knee-deep puddles between me and Tillie. I trudged on, happy not to have to call home.

The moral of the story--pay some attention to weather and if you have to abandon ship, figure out what you should take with you. Let me suggest a flashlight. And pay attention to the name of the county you're staying in.

How did Dad know the storm was so close to where I was heading?! He didn't seem to be paying attention to my travel plans. I guess it's a Dad-thing. I'll miss those moments...and other endearing traits of his.

I will try to be more attentive to my blogs. Yeah, right!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Amazing Bucket Bath

Sponge baths are usually for sick people, not for scuzzy 27' RVs.

But at the end of September a group of 16-year-old girls swarmed around Tillie, armed with buckets of water with some good ol' Shaklee Basic H and rags, transforming my bug, dirt and moss covered home/office into a pristine palace, well, maybe not a palace...but pristine.

The crew belonged to GOALS, which stands for Give Offer Advocate Love Serve. They play soccer with the Tri-Cities Strikers' club in Geneva/St. Charles, IL. Their parent moderator arranged this opportunity--one which left me with a clean vehicle and gave me the chance to share the HEAR US documentary, My Own Four Walls, kids talking about what it's like to be homeless.

I wonder what it's like to be from an affluent community and watch 20 minutes of kids just like them talk about not having a place to call home.

Fortunately these girls have parents who work to provide opportunities for service, something that the girls have enthusiastically embraced. My hopes are that they take the nugget of information shared during our RV wash party and figure out how they can help ease this growing condition.

None of them batted an eye when we told them we'd wash Tillie with buckets, no hoses. Others would have said it was impossible. I have proof to the contrary! Of course, that proof will wash away as rains drop from the skies.

A side note--my favorite cleaning product--Shaklee's Basic H--was the only cleanser I had on hand for this, er, party. I had about 8 oz. left in my bottle. We used not even 1/2 of that to get the job done without harming hands, Tillie or the environment!

Can't wait to go back for a re-wash!

Monday, August 11, 2008

'House' Cleaning for Tillie

For the past 3 years I've been caught boasting about only needing 10-15 minutes to clean the inside of this tin house. My standards aren't the highest, or lowest.

As I'm 2 months away from hitting the road again, I realize I need to do some inside house cleaning and whittling down stuff.

It amazes me, even with a concerted effort, how stuff accumulates. I could go on and on about paper--my office space runneth over. But it's more than just paper. It's electronics from gadgets gone by, brown paper bags from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods that I fail to remember to reuse, someone's (who else could we be talking about?) clothing that hasn't been touched in 3 years, ditto for shoes, and "survival" gear that is so deeply imbedded in Tillie's bowels that I'd probably die trying to get to it.

So, my publicly stated game plan is to pick a spot a week--basement, bedroom, living room, etc.--and clear it out. I need to be in a purge state of mind. After all, why carry extra weight? This may be easier than shaving pounds off my body!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Too Hot to Whine...

Sometimes it's good to de-comfort one's self to recalibrate a sense of appreciation. Tonight is that night for me.

Complications forced me out of my summer campground and onto a parking lot for a night. Knowing it's temporary and knowing I have it good otherwise, I'm here, but I'm hot.

I'm trying to be low-key, knowing it's not a parking lot like WalMart, so I'm technically not suppose to stay here. I am hoping for a night where I don't get disturbed by the rap-rap on Tillie's door telling me to move. I don't do well going from a solid sleep to driving.

My deep appreciation for a breeze, even a warm one, is top on my mind right now. I'm trying to not appear to be here--thus opening the shade to open the window is a no-no. I've cheated a bit, and figure I am probably more obvious than I would guess. Going to sleep will be the test, because where I'm parked determines how liberally I can invite in the cool air.

I'm whining. People with much less than me have much more to complain about. People on the streets have no privacy, no safety. Families in crappy, air-condition-less motels that take all their limited money have something to whine about. Not me, not tonight. Tomorrow I can whine about battery power.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Not Down About Downsizing

I spent some time with my folks who live in a nice retirement community near Atlanta. I flew down, leaving Tillie in the capable hands of my friend, Sr. Helen, who arranged a great spot for me to park this summer.

After selling my townhouse almost 3 years ago and living full-time in this 27' RV, I am amazed at how this compact space suits me.

The bedroom I stayed in at my parents' home has more than twice the square footage as I do in Tillie. I'd rather have less space. We don't need what we think in order to have a comfortable life.

So, despite the skyrocketing gas prices, Tillie and I will band together to take the HEAR US mission everywhere we can.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Solidarity of Sweat

Nothing like weather to remove the "them" and "us" barriers. The heat and storms of June in Illinois make me want to escape. Where to? Alaska?? With gas at $4 a gallon, let's see, that would be expensive, mosquito-enhanced cooling.

Air conditioning isn't my favorite comfort, though I can appreciate it on days/nights like this when the inside temperature at 10:00 pm is 85 (and I'm counting my blessings that the next round of storms haven't rolled through forcing me to close my windows). Trouble with RVs (at least cheap ones) is that the AC units are NOISY and suck propane by the tankful.

Seems to me RV manufacturers are a few paces behind the environmentally-conscious needs of consumers like me. Things you don't think of when buying an RV...I was clueless 3 years ago when I was contemplating this little venture.

My temporarily technology-impaired self (the heat has a big something to do with it) is pondering an internet search for smaller AC units--portable, not noisy. But not tonight.

I'll sweat it out, complaining to anyone who wants to listen, knowing that many people don't have the comforts I have. Without getting outside of this country's borders to the disaster-ravaged areas around the world...we can look under our bridges, in abandoned buildings, or in the millions of over-priced, substandard housing units that people call "home" and find people way worse off than me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gas Pains Bode Ill

Ever eat the wrong thing and suffer in your intestines because of it? That's kind of the sense I have about life in Tillie the tin-tent turtle.

Last week my good friend--and (real tent) camping buddy--Helen and I took off for northern Wisconsin for vacation. We chose to use Tillie despite the $4 a gallon gouging hitting the Memorial Day holiday travelers.

Our choice wasn't made ignorant of environmental concerns, but weighing the overall benefits/shortcomings of RV travel in this day and age where nothing is simple.

We were glad for our choice except when we stopped to fill up. Even then we knew we could afford the gas--albeit painfully--when some people who don't have adequate income can't afford to get to work AND pay rent.

After decades of camping in the wilds of the Boundary Water Canoe Area in northern Minnesota, Helen and I have succumbed to the comforts of warmth, indoor plumbing, and real chairs. We both can't believe we're there--but we are.

Lest readers who don't know better think we're complete wusses, we played disc golf like 39-year-old puppies, hiked with a vengeance, biked for miles, and wrestled ticks as we sought to spend every minute possible outside.

We don't know if that was our last pleasure trip in this HEAR US
mobile office (I personally pay the loan payments, insurance, upkeep, etc., and we paid gas from our own pockets). We just know it was an awesome trip!

Highly recommended--Copper Falls State Park, and Highbridge Disc Golf complex.

Check back. As I have time I'll share a fascinating comparison with our camping 20 years ago and today.

Happy motoring. Yeah, right.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tired State Park Campgrounds

The slanted and eroded gravel pads weren't worth using, even if the picnic table wasn't sprawled across it. (Do maintenance staff ever think that the last thing a late-arriving camper wants to deal with, especially in rain or other bad weather, is moving a picnic table that weighs slightly less than an elephant?!)

Tired would be the best word for it, though neglected would also work. The last campground I stayed at, NY's Chenango Valley State Park, a potentially beautiful spot, was so-so.

The ambivalent rating would be attributed to the general un-maintained campgrounds and RV essentials--especially the dump area. Then my pet peeve--no recycling. No hosts were apparent to me. Ill-placed garbage bin provided feeding opportunities for squirrels. Bone-jarring potholes. No signage to guide people out and minimal to get newbies in.

State parks undoubtedly are feeling budget crunches, and probably have for sometime, despite a short period of many states being flushed with cash. Those boon times are now bust times, and I fear that if state parks continue to ignore their charges we all will be the worst for it.

What do people see in other areas? What states do a good job?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Campaign Strategy

This Maryland campsite had the best of all worlds--semi-secluded campsites, water/electric, laundry facilities, and lots of beautiful scenery.

In my "younger" years, about 12 years ago, I gave serious thought to running for Congress. Well, the thought was serious, but when I sought the advice from a Congresswoman I knew, the money needed and personal sacrifice required splashed cold water on my hot idea.

Now, as we're in the midst of what seems like an eternal campaign season, I've had too much time to think. But my one RV-relevant thought is worth sharing.

Presidential candidates should spend time talking to campers in state parks. Yes, I know camping is a largely Anglo-Saxon pastime. I am not suggesting this is the ONLY venue they should visit, but bear me out....

In campgrounds you will find an interesting cross-section of America. Some wealthier people with their spiffy $1 million+ McMansion/RVs; crustier full-timers who either travel lots of miles or within a smaller area; families camping on the weekend to get their kids outside and to enjoy the offerings of our state parks; the vacationers who like getting closer to nature than the 4-walled motel rooms; and from what I've seen, some people who live in parks because they have lost their place to stay.

The candidates can come in casual duds and maybe partake in some BBQ chow or slam back a cold lemonade while chatting with the campers. While I'm sure lapel pins, debate formats, and other hot topics may be on the minds of some folks, based on my 2 1/2 years on the road, with countless nights in state parks, I imagine the issues list would look something like this:

  • Cost of Housing/Property Taxes I've overheard more than one conversation about how someone's sold their home to get out from under the burden of housing costs and property taxes. It's not just seniors. Then we have the burgeoning sub-prime and foreclosure debacles. Hearing some practical approaches to solving these growing crises would be welcomed.
  • Environmental concerns will also be an issue. On the most basic level, recycling--a rarity at campgrounds--and suggestions about protecting/improving conditions of our lakes and rivers, forests and undeveloped and park lands will likely arise. Park maintenance budgets would be good to include in the conversation, with the obvious suggestion of a 21st century version of Depression-age initiatives to give people jobs and restore dignity to the growing ranks of unemployed women and men.
  • Education and care for our children are prime topics. Parents who bring their kids out for a camping trip invest a lot in providing valuable experiences for their kids. They'll want to hear of real plans to improve governmental services that enhance the quality of life of ordinary people and provide educational opportunities so their kids can become productive adults.
  • Safety and neighborhood environment are subjects for discussion. It's amazing to get a group of strangers together, some shielded from the outside by the thinnest of fabric walls, and you have--at least from my experience--relative peace and civil behavior. Maybe change-of-pace has something to do with it, but we could learn from campground management, especially the unsung heroes who serve as camp hosts.
  • Health issues affect everyone. Providing healthy activities and good nutrition can go a long way to improving people's health, not dismissing the need for access to medical services at a rate that doesn't cause bankruptcy.
  • Fuel prices will surely make the list of worries for the camping public. Not just gas prices, but home heating oil, propane and electricity....
  • Economy--Add to the list how the next President can salvage an economy that is as close to doom-and-gloom as anyone would want to see...
  • War--then explain how military--and more critically para-military --involvement in the Mideast will be handled.
Then the candidates can hop back on the campaign trail, refreshed, knowing that they've heard from an oft-ignored segment of the American public.

Sure beats the hypocrisy of standing in New Orleans over 2 years later and decrying lack of action. Well, there I go, getting all political again....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Musings

My restorative view at Pinochet State Park in PA.

I love Mother Earth. Sometimes I feel huge guilt driving a gas-guzzling RV, but I assuage that guilt by mentally calculating that my carbon footprint in other aspects of my life probably (hopefully) reduce the unavoidable stomp that comes with driving a 10 mpg vehicle. Kind of like stepping on flowers but harvesting organic veggies....

For the other parts of my life I try to be earth-friendly: recycling (though not as passionately as Sr. Paula, my high school English teacher does), using earth (and people) friendly Shaklee cleaning products, skimping on use of water and electricity (sometimes not by choice), and consuming only what is necessary. I know it's not enough, but I'm growing better each day.

But a couple environmental issues/topics continue to vex me:

Plastic bags. I hate seeing plastic bags blowing in the wind or hanging like ghosts on tree branches. I've been annoyed for decades by our collective inability to manage plastic bags. But, what's the deal with the big plastic bag bandwagon that only goes as far as grocery bags? What about other, less flexible products like those impenetrable plastic product protectors that require a stick of dynamite to open ( could go on and on...)? And what are people supposed to use to securely toss their garbage?

Recycling. Why do some places have mega recycling efforts and some places have none? Campgrounds would be a prime example relative to where I am now. I am happy to find the only small propane canister recycling bin here, but no other recycling opportunities are visible. And I've been storing up waiting to find one. Yikes!

As I listen to the peaceful sounds of nightfall,
sitting here surrounded by trees much older than me,
feeling the energy from the nearby lake,
I'm grateful for the opportunity to find a state park to spend some time in that offers such beauty....

I look forward to spending time getting caught up on work, but also getting refreshed by the gift of nature that surrounds me. I hope we can protect what's left of Mother Earth's precious offerings.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm Crazy!

My preference for backroads is renowned. My Iowa welcome pix reminds me of the bucolic Midwest, a place I will hopefully be in a few weeks.

If anyone ever needed proof that I was crazy, here ya go....

I just finished a 3-day stint in Boston where I had the joy of introducing our 2008 version of My Own Four Walls.

Thanks to the generosity of a high school classmate/friend of mine I had a great place to park "Tillie" while I worked the young homeless children convention. Jan and her husband, Paul, rented me a car so I could avoid driving Tillie into Beantown. That was a massive help, for obvious reasons.

Of all the major cities I've driven in (I do try to avoid the urban plunge but I've done Portland, Atlanta, Chicago, Little Rock, Las Vegas, and Dallas) Boston is by far the worst! Now for the reason I'm crazy....

Two years ago I was invited to meet with the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor. Their headquarters sit smack dab in downtown Boston. I camped at a state park south of Boston and made arrangements with my CSM contact for a parking spot.

I left extremely early (that's where my good sense ends) for my 1:00 appointment. Armed with maps and chutzpah, I headed into the fray. Sometimes trauma blurs memories of reality for good reason. I do remember driving up and down streets that looked like I imagine Iraqi streets--totally destroyed. One-way streets intensified the challenge augmented by a profusion of overly-bold walking and bike-riding bodies.

All that was bad enough but when push came to shove after about 1 1/2 hours, I couldn't find the building. Now, to my credit I did cut my losses and retreat to a shopping center parking lot and parked Tillie, hopping on a bus. Yeah, why didn't I think of that before taking the plunge? I admit to being a tad frazzled at the onset of the meeting, but the warmth and the group's genuine interest in homelessness put me at ease (no easy task!!).

For the record, the next time I have to go into Boston, I'm renting a helicopter! I've never seen roads that bad--torn up, in need of being torn up, unmarked, pot-holed, teeming with double-parked cars and trucks. I could go on and on. I think Boston is an awesome city if you don't have to drive. (For the record, I tried taking the train from an outlying community but the parking lot was filled and no alternatives were apparent.)

My longing for rural roads of any persuasion is so strong that only nighttime is keeping me from climbing behind the wheel tonight.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

O Neglected Blog

"Camp Black Hawk College" in Moline, IL, was a recent stopping point in this HEAR US journey.

Argh! The joy of blogging turns into the pain of not having time to blog. I'm not dead. I'll be back to my abnormal routine soon. Check back!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Profound Disappointment

See--who said Tillie never got a bath? The last one was in June, 2007, when I tricked my sister, her husband and his kindly sister, and my nephew into scraping off a year's worth of dead bugs and road grime. It was right before I covered the GS logo with a plain label.

About a year ago I confidently and hopefully approached Gulf Stream Coach with a proposal to trade brand recognition for financial support of HEAR US, my unique national non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of homelessness.

I knew Tillie and I would be getting some national TV coverage and my thought was it could benefit GS as well as HEAR US. How glad I am that they said no. Shortly after the rejection I covered the GS logos.

I've been following the formaldehyde saga--where travel trailers provided by FEMA for hurricane victims were determined to have unacceptable levels of the toxic chemical. I know people who have stayed in these trailers. Some people I know who were placed in FEMA trailers after Hurricane Ivan have wondered about the integrity of the construction and their possible toxic levels.

This is not a new discussion. But it took a couple years for FEMA, the CDC, and the federal government to finally admit what I suspect people knew from the get-go: the toxic tin cans that have been home to thousands of families following the devastation of Hurricane Rita and Katrina in 2005 should never have been used.

Having bought my motorhome back in November 2005, I wonder if I should be worried. Gulf Stream is one of the main providers of the toxic units. Do I trust them if they assure me I have nothing to worry about?

What will happen to those responsible for the deception that continues today? Congress is quick to hold hearings and to determine blame for athletes who use steroids. OK, that's important, to a degree, but the formaldehyde scandal is much worse in my mind. Maybe the low-key approach is because most of the families in the tainted homes are not wealthy athletes??

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Walking the Walk

What's not to love about a view like this--the Wisconsin-cheese-curd-squeaky pristine beaches of the Emerald Coast, along Florida's Panhandle?

Taking a peaceful walk along the beach on the Emerald Coast of Florida, you still have 2 choices: walk by the ever-diminishing natural setting of a state park or gawk as you walk on beaches that separate mega-million dollar mansions from the sometimes surly sea.

We did both today. Seeing the not-humble abodes perched like flamingos on stilts designed to keep the dwellers' feet dry, these homes represent the typically very part-time residences for the very rich who like the view.

I like the view too. Not houses but sea oats and other wild growth that used to adorn the coast before it was discovered by silly people who think they're impervious to hurricanes. Building a house that close to the Gulf of Mexico is audacious. Building a multi-million dollar 5,000+ sq. foot mansion is insanity and waste.

One of our group commented about how obscene it is to see these huge domains here and to know so many other people have little to no place to call home. I don't begrudge people their pleasures if everyone has a chance to get the basics needed for survival. But that is less and less the case.

We returned to our home base, me with Tillie's 150 sq. ft. which more than adequately shelters me. What it would be like to live in a sustainable house? If anyone has some info about this growing--and essential-- form of housing, please let me know.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tough to Gauge

One of the earliest lessons I've learned in RVing has been that the gauges are pretty useless. For whatever it costs to get them, you'd think you'd get instruments of reliability of some reasonable level.

My moments of panic as I saw that my propane gauge erronously indicated "empty" are matched by the false confidence of seeing my water level was at 3/4 only to hear the pump telling me otherwise when I'm nice and sudsy....

So I'm ignoring the red blackwater indicator. Wonder what happens if I'm wrong??? Guess I'll find out.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Party Time

I'm rarely capable of coming up with an upbeat column. I suppose it's the casualty of working in the field of homelessness for all these years. But this time I'm gonna give it a try....

Pulling into this little campground in Lafayette, LA, I was sort of surprised that most of the 70 campsites had "reserved" signs posted. Oh yeah, Mardi Gras weekend...uh oh...

But I nabbed one of the few spaces left on Thursday night. I knew the onslaught of campers would show up Friday afternoon, and I was right. Almost every spot filled up--a lot of families with little and big doggies...and some serious party animals, mostly young males.

Now, at this point I'm happy to have electricity, water and an inexpensive--$13 a night--spot to hang out. If the party animals return in an enchanted state of mind I may rethink.

OK, for the happy part of this blog. It's kids playing. The sound and sight of pure, simple fun blending in with the twilight croaking of frogs from our nearby swollen stream makes for a delightful experience. Kids of all sizes are scooting on their bikes up and down the road and hillsides like busy ants. I've heard nary a nasty word from kiddos or adults. How weird is that??!!

I'm going to hold that thought, not wanting to create any bad karma that would upset this good karma.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Travel Treasures

While traveling for my documentary project, HEAR US, I pulled up to a busy Phoenix intersection and stopped at the light. An obviously homeless man began crossing in front of our paused vehicles. I was first in line, preoccupied with the reality that I couldn't find my 1:00 appointment at the nearby (or so I thought) shelter. He turned toward me, pointing to the corners of his mouth, made a universally understood motion to indicate "SMILE" and stood and stared at me.

With a snicker of someone who had been caught being overly pensive, I flashed a smile, which he recognized as sufficient to trust I'd hold that thought, and he moved on to the vehicle next to me, repeating his motions. They needed a little help, so our Mr. Smiley pointed up to the sky, circling his finger in a "divine" gesture, then stretched out his arms to indicate a worldwide expectation, and then the smile routine again. Finally, just in time for the light to change, they got it. He scooted out of the way and we moved on, me with a smile on my face that lasted longer than the red light.

Because I was trying to find an obscure location, I ended up circling around, coming up to the same intersection, this time sitting a few vehicles behind the front. I watched the end of Mr. Smiley's performance on the intersecting street, and marveled as this relentless smile-inducer scrambled to get to his next customers, our line of traffic.

Meticulously he tended to the frowning drivers and passengers of each vehicle, not satisfied until they shook off their disdain for his grungy appearance and simply smiled. Although he has no apparent way of gauging the quality of happiness he imparts, he can at least quantify the outward response--the smile, his measure of success.

My friend never made a motion indicating he needed money, perhaps because he had what money couldn't buy, the best job in the world, making people happy. His mime motions communicated more than expensive therapists, mega-bucks ad campaigns, or a pile of self-help books ever could: smile, life is short, be happy, the world is watching!
For more information on the documentary project, see

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Will $3.50 a Gallon Put the Brakes on Travel?

The news about rising gas prices doesn't make me happy. Those of us with modest incomes who rely on our RVs for work/travel/home will start to feel more than a pinch.

Since I've been full-timing, I've seen gas prices zoom past the once-unthinkable $2 a gal. I had to decompress my anxiety, thinking of the per mile cost at those high prices.

I don't drive frivolously. I do it for my work, a nonprofit project. I plan my trips to minimize my travels. I don't idle idly. I rarely use my genny, and only with huge guilt about my carbon footprint.

We as a nation need to put the brakes on our use of fuel. It just seems like it falls on the income-challenged consumer rather than the power-boat crowd or the private plane owners....

What do the people do who must drive for a meager living--delivering newspapers or pizzas, driving cabs or driving to work long distances because affordable housing is not available?

My whining is justified because some people in the oil industry pipeline are reaping huge profits, claiming that these high prices are just a natural by-product of high demand. Sorry, but after the Enron scandal, my skeptical nature has risen to new heights, almost as high as the price at the pump.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

You Never Know

Just a few weeks ago I drove through Fernley, NV, the scene of this weekend's weather catastrophe. When I hear of disasters like this in places I've been I feel a strange sense of connection, even though I don't know the people there.

Traveling in an RV, especially on backroads, offers a connection with the heart of this country unlike the experience available to jet-setters and Interstate zoomers. I maintain that our disconnect has cost our country a tremendous resource: our compassion-- or even just a responsibility-bearing sense of connection--with our backroad brothers and sisters.

My passing through Fernley, or my week of bliss spent on Oregon's coast right before the December storms blasted the area, or my recognizing the names of hometowns of dead soldiers...none of that matters on a bigger scale, but to me it's a prime benefit of my nomadic lifestyle.

My struggle, which I value as much as the benefits of my travels, is to figure out how to transform my connection into something that can help. No easy answers there....