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....