I saw these guys on an RV in front of us on burn night 2013…I just ran across this in one of my folders and had forgotten all about it. Love, love, love everything about this shot and the story of how they’re all just laid back and watching from afar, while I watched from afar-ther. Away from all the craziness and the thousands of people down there as the Man burns. You can see the smoke and dust, flames and lasers in front of them.
How did he figure out this lifestyle? It’s not something his dad did so..?
No definitely not. I don’t know he was a drifter when I met him.
And that was after the war, right, Vietnam?
Yeah he just couldn’t, stay in one place for long, couldn’t settle down, things would get a little too tough with responsibilities or schedules and he’d just take off and go somewhere else.
Yeah so those 9 months, I think it must have been six months left by then, because we worked at the hotel I was probably 3 months there, we must have just bummed around, got the bus, and decided that we would, it was kind of close to the due date so we must have decided to just hang out in Havasu (Lake Havasu City, AZ).
And you’d had no prenatal care or anything right…so you were just…
Yeah, nope. I think we lived in Wilcox for a while, that’s right because I remember being really big. We got a little apartment and your dad got a job, I remember him working somewhere. Yeah, so toward the end of my pregnancy we got the bus. So we’d have a house to live in.
Sort of a house.
It was a nice bus, though, it was pretty neat.
I remember pictures of it.
It had a little kitchen, bed, dining table, bathroom. I liked it.
How long did that bus hang around, must not have been very long.
No, after you were born we moved around in it for a while, I think until you were, I don’t know gosh. Oh from the bus we must have gotten that step van.
The UPS van?
Yeah. Cuz you were little in that. And then we drove, we took that a lot of places, up to Nevada, all over. That’s when we were out in Gerlach (NV), we had that and you were just little.
So how did Gerlach happen?
Probably through some economic development office. Somebody was looking for workers.
So you guys would register with those when you came into a town and try to find jobs?
Or you would hear through somebody you knew that there was work somewhere, seemed like you guys did that pretty much the whole time.
SO what do you remember about Gerlach.
It was a long way out to this ranch, it was an agricultural area so there were a lot of fields with irrigation and you know, sprinklers, and you came to this one ranch, it was really nice, nice big house on it, trees, huge fields I remember we weren’t going to be there long because there was a lot of work to do. (Laughs…)
We lived in the bunkhouse there connected to the barn. It was nice, it was fun. Either we had the bicycle…I think we must have had the bicycle, that was the picture with you on your dad’s shoulders on the bike.
That was in Gerlach, I didn’t know that.
Um yeah we didn’t stay there long, of course we packed up and moved on. From there, I don’t recall. I know we kind of ended up hanging out in Needles (CA) for quite some time probably during the winter. We met Jim and Lucy Stumpf, they were really nice people… Jim was. Of course he died of brain cancer a few years after that, from all the solvents he had used. He had built generators, all the cleaning solvents…and no ventilation in his little workshop.
That was one of the older couples that you guys would keep coming back to. To mooch off of.
Yeah cuz we could hang out there, and she would feed us.
My diary tells me all I wanted was my own room. A place that didn’t move. People who knew me, boys who looked at me and wanted me and asked for my number. Only I’d never had a number. The only telephones we used were pay phones, at a corner behind the casino in Winnemucca while the dust blew by and the clouds settled in, while Dad played cards and drank somewhere inside and we sat outside and tried to be still and patient, tempers growing thin and us fidgeting, hungry. In front of a Bashas’ grocery store in Parker, Arizona, from the safety of a grocery trip that got Mom and I away from the desert on our own for a whole day to civilization, ice cream, the library. She’d check in on Granny, call her friend back in Georgia. Let them know we were still alive – did they wonder how long? But she’d made her own choices, they’d say, shaking well-coiffed Southern heads and not even trying to understand. She always was a little wild, that Mary. I didn’t know the wild Mary existed. All I’d ever seen was a sweet cowed woman that loved us more than anything.
Kids don’t know any better. They’re programmed to want to conform, to fit in, to survive in the herd and not be noticed. If I’d continued on the road as a teenager, if we’d kept going while I decided who I was going to be I would never have been able to stop. I know it in my bones. They say “You’d still be on the road, baby. You’d be somewhere in South America by now. On your way to China.” And I ache to be that person that I might have been. The person that I am feels hollow, too light to pull myself free from the clay of the earth and the roots growing round my feet. I imagine the flutter of leaves breaking free from branches, the flight of each one flashes of tiny freedoms and bursts of joy.
The old Airstream settles on Don’s land, her tires sighing out the breath pumped into them 20 (goddamn!) years ago at some far away rest stop- Nevada- maybe Oregon air, seeping out of tires no longer hard and young. Happens to us all.
I see her aging, flaking, and I know her and my destinies include me making her new again. I have to, I’ll rip out her insides and make her mine, strong and road-worthy again. Not young, I don’t have that kind of magic. But youth is not everything. I’d rather have her history, her wisdom. I don’t care how long or how much it costs. We will travel the road again together. But there won’t be 6 of us packed in there again.
The Airstream will be 26 feet of pure minimalist modern luxury when I’m done. Light and bright inside, and light on the road. I wish someone could buff me up and take out the nascent wrinkles before I reach her state of tired.
Walking into the trailer, our old home, brings back Needles where we first lived encased in her well-kept confines, the relative luxury of running water and electricity, of Karl’s borrowed showers, and his desperate want of my mother. I see that most in retrospect, don’t know if it was true and only assume.
Clackamas and Mt. Hood National Forest, where the rain drummed on the taut aluminum body, until we had to leave, avoiding the rust and must that would surely follow. The previous owners, a sweet Canadian couple with their road-years behind them, carved wooden coyotes and saguaros into her bulwarks (the faces of interior cabinets, and my made up ship-name for them). Crude art, that I don’t like but am loathe to take down. So much love in simple art, mine included.
As most good things, she became ours when Dad wasn’t around to fuck things up. Mom asked Granny for the loan. $5 thousand? $8 thousand? I remember we all took turns holding the check because it seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. The most we’d ever seen.
As the only material thing Mom held on to, I’m glad it was this piece of the past. And I’m honored to take her and make her right again. There’s never been a doubt she was a she- mother, protector, road-ship. All vessels are female, the holders of everything important.
The smell inside, of old must books and wood long un-loved makes me want to scrub and scrub all the neglect away. Make her, and the past, belong to me.
I took a bunch of shots of the sky as it changed, I must have 10 totally different skies in 10 minutes. I love the mountains of New Mexico- and when my mom pointed out her whirlygig, it made the perfect silhouette. Silhouettes have always been something I was artistically drawn to- I paint them, photograph them, am endlessly fascinated by them.
Yeah, this isn’t a whiny post about why I haven’t been posting, or blah blah blah. Just an honest one- it will be a year tomorrow since my momma lost her happy ending. It put me off the story of us, of her, of me because it wasn’t the arc I had been writing, on to a generic upbeat ending about how life was better, about how we’re off the road now and mostly wish we were back on its endless curves, its excitement; where you don’t know what it means to be bored.
Life don’t work like that, kids, life is a shitty bastard that likes to kick you right in the guts when you are expecting sunshine and flowers. I won’t go into details, I’ll save that for the story that I’m back on track with now. It just took a year to realize that was the way it was, and there is more tragedy now. And I am a writer and that’s just another kind of story.