I’m writing three stories this month about some interesting people that I have met while traveling. This is at the request of my friend, Fran, who enjoys hearing stories about people and animals, and not so much about places that I’ve been. Fran and I have had many discussions about some strange situations I find myself in, and real “characters” that have entered my life for brief periods of time.
People have always talked to me and told me intimate details of their lives, mostly with very little prompting on my part. I’m not really sure why the grocery store cashier in Overton, Nevada told me a lengthy story about her new, younger boyfriend who treated her better than any other man had ever treated her. She told me with such enthusiasm and joy, that I found myself encouraging her to continue, despite observing the woman behind me in line tapping her toe impatiently. As the cashier effused praise and gratitude for the good luck bestowed upon her, I found myself equally moved by the goodness of this man. I smiled at her through the plexiglass plate and wished her well as I left the store with a spring in my step and joy in my heart for the good fortune of another.
Then….there are people who have surprised me with their audacity. Being raised by a mother who was a southerner, and also the wife of an Air Force officer, there are certain things, that I learned, that are not discussed in polite conversation with strangers.
I rolled into the campground at Willow Beach, which is on the southern tip of Lake Mead in Arizona, at midday with great anticipation of relaxing for 2 days at a beautiful park overlooking the water. It was past the high season, so a quiet experience was my expectation.
Then, he appeared, a man in his mid-70’s with short cropped grey hair and a wiry build. He greeted me from the adjacent campsite which was located above mine, with a steep, gravely slope between us. His rig was one of those giant (40 ft), fancy rigs with slide-outs, leather furniture, and a shower that you can actually stand up in without bumping your head. Around the rig were his toys- a Vespa motorbike, a fishing boat, and a new pickup truck. He told me that his name was Byron and that he was spending 6 months at the campground to get out of the cold winter of Colorado. He slipped and slithered down the hill, and actually managed to make it without breaking his neck. “Kudos”. He also brought treats for Gemini, who was barking at full volume at the invader. We spoke briefly, him mostly telling me about himself, and then, he climbed back up the hill in what I can only describe as him showing off his hiking prowess and old guy flexibility.
The next day, I ran into Byron as I was walking Gemini. We decided to walk together to the fish hatchery as it was part of his daily 2 mile routine- 1 mile down the hill, 1 mile back up the hill. We walked and talked in a friendly way about the beauty of nature and he pointed out one of his favorite sites- a barrel cactus growing out of the rock face, with it’s sharp red spines contrasting with the rounded green flesh.
The following day, I invited Byron on a walk before I had to pack up and leave the area. Again, it was a pleasant walk, and he regaled me with a couple of stories about his small, single-prop airplane, and some dicey situations in which he found himself.
We parted ways after the walk, and I started packing and cleaning in preparation for my departure. I was vacuuming, and had the door propped open with the screen door closed, and suddenly, he appeared at the door with a scrap of paper in his hand.
He said, “I wish you would stay longer.”
I replied, “I can’t. I have a schedule to keep. Sorry, I have to go. I really enjoyed meeting you.”
He handed me the paper and said, “Here’s my address. I’ll be here until the end of April.”
“Ok. Thanks,” I replied.
And then, out of the blue, he looks at me with all seriousness and says, “Make love to me before you leave”.
“NO!” Flew out of my mouth with such force and volume that it startled Gemini who was lying in the grass next to the picnic table.
“I don’t even know you! I don’t just sleep with random strangers!” I continued my rant.
He actually begged for a bit longer, and then let it go, wished me well and left.
I hurriedly finished my preparations and got out of there. For the next 50 miles, I talked out loud to Gemini about “the Nerve” of that guy! A couple of brief conversations and 2 hikes does not constitute a relationship worthy of having sex with a stranger! “OMG, Gemini! Am I a total prude?” and then, “Does this happen to all women traveling alone?”
Gemini yawned, blinked, then closed his eyes and fell back to sleep to the rocking motion of the RV speeding down the road.
My last story is about the kindness of strangers, the sort of kindness that is given straight from the heart from one human to another, without thought of gaining anything in return. It is also about how one’s perception can be distorted by dreams of fear.
In mid-October, very early in my travel career, I left New Mexico and entered Texas at the northwest corner, headed for Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale. My GPS routed me through about 100 miles of horribly pot-holed, beat up roads through the oil fields of West Texas. My first impression of the state was not good. The amount of big truck traffic carrying heavy equipment is rivaled only by I-294 in Chicago. The view was equally dreadful- miles and miles of flat scrubby land populated with oil rigs, refineries, and enclaves of temporary housing for workers, jammed behind chain-linked fences.
If I got Flo up to 50 mph, she rattled and clattered so badly that I thought the axles would break. There was a line of trucks of at least a mile behind me, so I pulled over to let them pass, thinking that I was the cause of the slowdown. It wasn’t me. Nobody else could drive more than 45 mph without getting their teeth rattled out of their heads!
By the time I got to the state park, I was done in. It was after 4pm, and I was anticipating a beautiful park with hot showers. I drove up to the gate and read the sign posted with a sinking feeling, “Closed until Spring of 2020 for renovations”. I almost panicked; I wanted to panic! I had no back up plan, no place to stay in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and it was going to be dark soon.
As I drove the 4 miles back to the small town, I felt discouraged, and more importantly, concerned for my safety. I began to question everything- from my choice of campgrounds, to the distance I drove in one day, to, finally, my decision to retire early and go on the road, alone.
Then, I saw the sign for firewood, and pulled in to a shabby little store, decorated with lighted plastic pumpkins, that also had a drive-thru beer window. The man who greeted me was heavy-set and in his late 60’s. He had a round, brown face with laugh lines around his dark brown eyes. His Tex-Mex drawl was instantly calming as he said, “Can I help you?”
I asked him if he knew of a place that I could stay for the night because the park was closed. He must have sensed the desperation in my voice because without hesitation, he said, “You can stay here if you want. Do you need hook-ups?”
I said, “No, I’m good.”
He pointed to a spot between a 35 ft trailer and a partially finished building, and with his help, I backed into the space that was bordering a pasture with grazing horses and donkeys. “This might be ok”, I said to myself as I sat there behind the wheel and surveyed my surroundings.
I went into the store that consisted of one commercial type cooler with a glass front holding beer and pop, a checkout counter, and a home style refrigerator that was used to store boxes. In the rear of the store was a well-used recliner facing an old style television. Not, what I would call a thriving retail business, but more like a man cave that sold beer.
We talked casually about his grandkids, plans for the half-built structure next door, and how he was going to sit and watch t.v. this evening, in case I needed anything. He said that I could pay him whatever I wanted, and then pointed to his house across the road in case anybody stopped by to hassle me about being there. Jonnie hung out in his store until about 10 o’clock, greeting several friends and customers who stopped by for a six pack or conversation. I fell asleep that night feeling comfortable, safe and grateful to a kind soul who helped a stranger in her travels.
Around midnight, I woke up startled, with my heart pounding. I heard something, what was it? As I laid there trying to control my breathing, I reached up and took the pepper spray off the hook above my bed. What did I hear? Footsteps walking on the gravel outside my rig, I’m sure of it! Slowly, I got out of my bed and quietly looked out all of the windows. Gemini was snoring, unconcerned in the next room. Nothing outside the windows. I fell back to sleep clutching the pepper spray, with the coyotes howling in the distance.
The next morning as I was lying in bed, thinking about my fearful night, I heard the cats get up and go to the food bowl- there it was-I realized then, that cats eating dry food in the dark sounds a lot like footsteps walking on gravel!
Here are some recent photos I’ve taken on the road as I continue to Go with the Flo……