RV Chronicles #4 – Travel Book

20191116_165526“You can see a war out there, or you can see a friendly place.  Or you can simply see and skip the words.”

-Charles Bowden, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing:  Living in the Future

So, this story is not an RV chronicle, but it is RV adjacent.

We were in New York City for the weekend.  Mark took the kids to an M&M store in Times Square.  I opted to go to a large independent bookstore in Chelsea to be amongst my people.  I love to go to independent bookstores because the staff are not only really friendly, but incredibly knowledgeable.  I wanted to find a travel book based on RV adventures. 

Although I didn’t find one, the person helping me showed me a book of essays entitled, Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future by Charles Bowden.  I loved the title, so I that was an easy sell.  Then, she showed me some books by French authors traveling around the U.S.  I bought the one that was most critical of America, as I love a little snarky adventure.

When I approached the cashier, he looked at me with disdain.  It was as if he was saying with his eyes, Here she is.  Another middle-aged white lady.  What is the book of the day, ma’am?  Ah, Meditations on Menopause? Good choice.  It is a typical look and I have seen before.  The NYC intellectual look, I call it. I usually wilt when I see this look as I still have an “also-ran” attitude when it comes to NYC.  I am from Cortland, NY, which the New Yorkers view as basically, Canada. Definitely not New York. Although, as I have gotten older, I do not shrink much anymore.  I met his gaze head on.

As he was ringing up my purchases, he grabbed the Bowden book and asked, wide-eyed, “Where did you get this?”.  I looked around, my Catholic guilt showing, and said, “From the travel section?”. My statement was posed as a question because I was stunned by his.  Then he asked, “Who gave you this book?”. This time, I stared him right in the eye and said, “Someone who works here.” In my mind I was thinking, Listen, Skippy.  I don’t know what this is, but don’t try to pull anything on me.  I’m a New Yorker, too. Upstate New Yorker.  

I was relieved when he started gushing about the author.  His love for Bowden’s work made me just happy to be alive.  This kid went from sullen and dark, to sweet and puppy-ish in a matter of seconds.  He said, “Oh, do you want a bag?” and I responded, “Yes, the tote bag that I picked out before.”  He shook his head, apologized and blushed brightly like a Christmas ribbon.

I like to surprise people, and it’s even better when they surprise me.

When I left, I checked my Google Maps app.  It looked like I had a 15 minute walk ahead of me to our hotel.  No big deal. I started walking down Houston and then up 6th Avenue.  It was so great to walk in the city and see real life in front of me – men playing basketball, old couples walking arm in arm, kids in strollers.  Although it was only 33 degrees, I was feeling quite warm basking in the NY glow.  

I had been walking for a good 20 minutes and my face was starting to sting from the cold air.  I decided to double-check the hotel address. 827 6th Avenue, OK, and I am now at…..127. WHATTTTTT!!  So, I misread Google Maps. The directions from before were for driving distance, not walking. I was in for a 60-minute walk.  Ah, no big deal.

I kept an eye on the blocks as they rolled by – 200 block, 300 block….whew!!!

 I got to the hotel feeling pretty good about myself.  I had some cred after that walk, I tell you. I announced to the front desk staff that I just walked there from Little Italy.  I got a lot of accolades and we laughed about my Google Maps guffaw.

I remembered such an important lesson after these two situations.  Even though I am a control freak, I definitely enjoy the unexpected.

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RV Chronicles #3 – Flashlight Letters

20190612_072736“I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another…I had nothing but generosity to report.  The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

The RV’s roof leak took a little longer than expected to fix.  My daughter and I decided to head out and the boys would wait at home for the RV.  After a day of sightseeing, Colleen and I headed to our campground in Asheville, North Carolina.  The campground was located at the summit of a mountain, accessed only by a narrow dirt road. The ride was entirely uphill and the road had no shoulder – no buffer between the small road and potentially plummeting over the cliff’s edge.  I was concerned the RV would have trouble on this road in the dark.  

As we checked into the campground, the owner said, “We do have a black bear and her cubs on this mountain. It’s best to stay inside after dark.”  Umm, what?!? Immediately, I became on high alert. What did I learn in Girl Scouts about bear safety? Was it that you talked nicely to a bear? Played dead?  My mind tried to remember the protocol, to no avail. My eyes darted from bushes to trees, looking for the lurking threat. It was dusk at this point and the boys were going to arrive in about 2 hours.  Without a camper, Colleen and I had to wait in the car for them to arrive.  

An hour went by.  As we were watching “Black-ish” on my phone to kill time, there was a knock on the window.  I screamed. 

This very tall, massive man with a long beard smiled at me.  I got out of the car and introduced myself. He motioned to his massive camper parked in the neighboring site and explained he and his wife camped at this site each year.  They were “regulars”. He offered me a flashlight for “safety reasons”, as he encountered a bear when he was retrieving his wife’s shoes one morning from outside of their camper.  “I shined this flashlight into his eyes and begged him or her not to kill me.” Excellent. I knew I was about to die on this mountain with my young daughter.  

He invited us to wait in their camper until my husband and son arrived.  “It’s not that clean, but it’s home.” Although he seemed kind, I am still a New York girl at heart.  I do not trust strangers that easily. I smiled and said, “No, thank you,” and explained we would wait in the car.  “OK, take the flashlight anyway. And, let me know if my wife and I can help you out at all. We’ll be up for a while.” 

The flashlight was extremely bright and industrial-looking.  It was bright enough to illuminate the entire site as well as the woods behind our campsite.  I immediately felt a little safer, being able to see a wide view.

My husband arrived and we had to park and level the RV before settling in for the night.  In the dark. With the bear in close proximity. You see, you have to prop up the tires, called leveling the RV, at every campsite to ensure everything inside the RV works properly, like the refrigerator.  We learned that lesson the hard way. Although I was deathly afraid of being outside in the darkness, I felt like the flashlight kept us safe from impending doom.

The next morning, I walked over to return the man’s flashlight and he told me to keep it.  ”You may need it and I’ll feel better if you all are safe.”

We took our time in the bright sunshine to tour the campground.  The view from the common area was tremendous. It would remind you of the movie, Shadowlands, when Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis talked about the Golden Valley.  There were majestic mountain peaks with a lush, green valley and a river running through it all.  The beauty was almost too much to take.  

The next night, our kids wanted to roast S’mores, so we headed to the campfire at the common area.  A couple from New Jersey were there enjoying a cocktail, after a 12-hour drive and were ready to start their vacation.  The man had lots of stories about being a bus driver, while proudly mentioning his wife was the breadwinner of the family.  She smiled, and was quiet. She seemed happy to give him the spotlight.

As we chatted, he said their son just graduated from Parris Island as a newly minted Marine.  The whole training experience, as grueling as it was, bonded their family in unexpected ways. Before his son left for training, he told them not to write him. Then, the son made up excuses why he wouldn’t be able to write them either – he’d be tired after drills, too busy, etc.  They were crushed as they left their young man for the first time, knowing they would not be in contact with him at all until after his training. I learned that there were no phone calls allowed while at Parris Island, and no e-mail. The only permissible correspondence was letter writing.

After one week of training, they were surprised to receive a letter from their son.  The man said the letter ended with the words, “Write me. Write often.” He said his son’s words made him feel better than “Christmas morning”.  They began to write a series of letters back and forth. “I got to know my son better through writing letters with him than when he lived with us at home, “ he noted and added, “instead of fleeting face-to-face conversations that were few and far between, these letters enabled us to bond.”  He went further to say that the letters were the son’s single most loving gestures he had ever given them. He and his wife were grateful to get to know their son, and the man he was becoming, through letter writing. This revelation sent my English teacher heart soaring, of course!

There is something about camping where humanity is on display and the kindness of people shows through.  We have plenty of examples from our very short tenure as campers: people helping us park the camper, offering us cocktails, sharing snacks and meals.  Our experience has been that the RV lifestyle is one filled with people who are happy to connect with others, while enjoying nature and creating memories with the ones they love.