Off the Grid, Aiming for the Bid: The Day in the Life of a Pilot (Travel Center/Gas Station) Patron

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September 6, 2014: Homeless but not Hopeless.

So I woke up this morning, in my car, because I can’t find a spliggin’ campsite for free like they were advertised. I slept well and uninterrupted in this Prunedale shopping center: it has a Safeway, Starbucks, CVS, and AutoZone – basically everything I could need. They also have a McDonald’s and a Burger King, Auto Repair Shop, and Hardware store in an adjacent shopping center. I’m choosing to settle here, ham it out, earn a little money, and then fix my car and live a little larger from there.

I absolutely cannot make a living traveling around and burning gas. So I had a client in MD deposit a month’s tuition in my bank account this morning, which gives me a little hustle money, and I have the websites, job listings, and my creativity to work. I will be a writer and this is how. The people are friendly and keep to themselves. It’s far enough away from the suburbs to not be annoying, but not so far removed that I feel isolated. Also there are parks and trees nearby to get that connection to nature.

I’m also working on solidifying my Tai Chi practice. I’ve been practicing more consistently and trying to exorcise the demons I’ve left over from traveling or deal with my tired body/soul from all that exorcising. The weather here is great, but like many parts in California: what’s with the super cold evenings? Sheesh! It’s not as bad as the bay area where my bone marrow is still cold in the morning, but there is something deep and biting about the California chill. However, California has mountains, lakes, the horizon, never ending sunsets, and the beauty and romanticism and hope it was probably founded on or had inspired in the founders moreover.

I arrive on site. I’ve done laundry at a Pilot Gas Station before, so I knew they had showers that are utilized mainly by truckers. After having been on the road from Tuesday until Friday straight, driving between 300-500 miles each day, I was glad to fall into a shower and leave my worries behind. There is something symbolic about taking a shower: removing dirty clothes, washing away dirt/grime, relaxing and removing some of the worries, and coming out with a sense of renewal. This was how I felt. I also feel that when we relieve ourselves in the restroom that we also release negative and toxic emotions; although this is just a theory.

While I was waiting for my shower I had struck up a conversation with a lonely man who was sitting on the ground outside the store entrance. He asked some people for change while they passed through. I explained to him originally that I was hard off for money and couldn’t really contributing. After a few afterthoughts, I gave him a dollar of my laundry change and he thanked me and said God Bless You. I then asked this man where he was from. He had dirty blonde hair, tan skin, and still had a good amount of youth; I’d guess about age 32-35 years old. He had some handsome features amidst his minor hobo beard and looking kind of beaten. He had a lonely, defeated air about him and told me that he was from Florida and that he had come here for a landscaping job that fell through partly because he doesn’t speak English. Now he was stuck in Salina, CA and was making his way up to the bay area; he has a particular fondness for San Francisco.

He said when he was young he was trying too hard to be a “wanna-be-gangster.” I formed a picture in my mind, and jokingly asked him if he wore the baggy pants, the basketball jersey, and the baseball hat turned sideways or backwards in which he agreed. He said he was too busy trying to be cool and getting girls – it sounded like he accomplished his goal but was dissatisfied with the results. Meanwhile, as we conversed he would occasionally ask passerby-ers for change and was touched to see a guy who initially ignore him give him change after a trip to his car and a woman who gave him a granola bar when she got out of her vehicle and entered the store. I am always touched when I see other people giving to the homeless for some reason. For example, I saw a rich guy give a homeless woman money outside of a Mountain View, CA Walmart parking lot before entering into his new, bright blue Ford Mustang with his attractive girlfriend. He straight up opened up his fat wallet and pulled out a decent-priced bill or two and gave it to a complete stranger.

There was a real sense of loss in this man’s eyes, a sense of failure, a strong regret, and an emotion of defeat in his tone of voice (because of how his job fell through). I cheered him on and told him that he was still young, he can still find other work, he can go back to school, and that his biggest problem seemed to be that he can’t let go of the past and that he hasn’t forgiven himself for his mistakes. I told him the future was still open and that he should do the best he can – that he can form a plan and try to execute it. Then I wen tot take my shower and he was gone. I wish John the best – may God Bless him.

While I was waiting for my shower inside the store, a tall, thin-railed, body-tataooed, Caucasian truck drive with reasonably short brown hair that sort of bowl-cutted around his hairline, with a dark beard, and dark eyes struck up a conversation with me.

“Why is this taking so long?” he asked “I saw you waiting for quite some time!”

“Are you a truck driver?” I questioned.

“Yes.”

Then he proceeded to tell me about the politics of the job – how some truck drivers develop gripes and grudges with truck drivers simply because of their company affiliation. Also, how difficult and frustrating parking at a business lot can be. He said some drivers don’t give enough space to park, some block a space only to make a store run which makes others wait, and some block other drivers purposefully or give others a hard time because of company affiliation. Still, there are other truck drivers that simply like to bully and throw false threats at other drivers. It sounds like a rough job.

Next, he told me how truckers can only work 14 hours a day (or was it 11 hours?) and that the clock starts as soon as they enter the truck and punch in thte time. Also, he said they only have 45 minutes of free time to themselves out of the 11 hour day and this time can easily be used up if they have to run an errand. He also explained how sometimes if a shipment and drop off is delayed for some reason that the driver still has to wait around until the business owner or recipient is ready. However, he can watch movies or use his laptop during. I suggested that he could use that time to exercise, lift weights, or study books. He told me he could not bring weights because the truck companies are strict on how much weight a person can bring into the truck – he also wondered how two truck drivers were able to make it in their profession when they seemed to have a combined weight of 800lbs. Good question!

After the shower, I recharged my phone in the Subway (this restaurant seems popular all around the country except for Maryland) which is open 24 hours a day. Perhaps truckers like Subway. A light skinned, overweight, light-skinned African American man with a graying mustache, a bit heavyset like he can give quite a heave (not completely overweight but most likely used to be an athlete), and wore a black Air Force baseball cap.

“Excuse me, I was next in line,” he declared.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I was just looking at the menu!”

“No problem. I just wanted to let you know,” he responded.

“No problem. I also thought they were already making your sandwich,” as I hinted to the two sandwiches already on the conveyor belt.

“Oh no, they’re both his,” he gestured to the elder, Caucasian, white-haired gentleman to our left.

“Oh, I have a lot of people coming over,” the older white gentleman explained.

“I see. It’s good that you have a lot of people. You NEED a lot of people around you (as he spread his arms out to demonstrate). Having people is good. We have lots of difficult times ahead of us. A lot of hard times. This country is going downhill,” expressed the African American gentleman.

“What do you mean sir?” I asked.

He sighed and shook his head, “I’ve worked for the government before and I know what it’s like from the inside. I’m 60 years old and I know this country is going downhill. It’s just a matter of time.”

“Things can change, things might get better,” I responded.

“It’s not likely.”

“What period of time do you think the country was better or at its best?” I inquired with curiosity.

“Well, it was never that great.”

“I see. You’re in the Air Force?” I asked while pointing at his hat.

“Yes.”

“Where did you serve or which base?”

“Hawaii,” he responded.

“Was it nice?”

A gentleman grin and an inner smile manifested on the man’s face. His sense of joy and the good times, perhaps great times he’s experience was revealed on his face.

“What do you think?”

“Well sir, judging by the look on your face, I would say it was great!”

His face continued to glow.

“How about the women?” Come on, I’m still 33 years old. I need to know; mano y mano.

“Great. I met my wife there.”

“Was she Hawaiian or Asian?”
“Columbian.”

“Oh!”
We shot the breeze a little bit more, and as the conversation and his completed sub was drawing to an end he mentioned again that “this country is coming to an end.”

I reassured him that it could be fixed. He responded, “Oh? You’re an educated man. I can tell. Where did you go to school?”

“I went to college in University of Maryland and I’m attending grad school at University of Maryland University College.”

“See! I told you! You are an educated man. Maybe, maybe.”
We said our good bye’s and we wished each other well.”

As I completed my shower, I began re-organizing my car. A slightly short and overweight yet middle-aged Hispanic man asked me if everything was okay. I noticed him peering at me as I proceeded in my chore and I responded that everything was fine cheerfully. I saw he was eating a decently sized burrito wrapped in tinfoil in his right hand. He was chomping away and I asked in curiosity where did he get that burrito. He told me that he made them himself and every week he boils his own beans and how they have a lot of vitamins and nutrients. He told me, “These burritos are homemade! I made them myself. You can’t get these at any store!” Then he continued, “Do you want him and opened the driver’s side door of his medium-aged , gray pickup truck and poked his head out with a burrito wrapped in tinfoil. It looked so welcoming, hot, and welcoming, however, I asked him if there was any meat in there.

“No meat! It’s vegetarian, see?! It only has chicken, cheese, rice, and beans!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t eat chicken either,” I responded.

“No! Come, try them, there’s barely any chicken – mostly beans and rice, see?” he showed me the inside of his delicious-looking half-eaten burrito wrote the overly-using hyphen-maker/writer.

Then he asked me if I wanted water and said he has soup and bottles of water for anyone who’s on drugs (do I look that bad?  ) or that he finds is down and out. I assured him that I am okay, that I had food in my car, and he kept insisting and giving “final offers.”

Then he asked me if I wanted cantelopes, he had just sliced them fresh, and can give them to me right away. He ducked his head in his truck again and plucked out a plastic container with fresh, cut-up cantelopes. I grabbed one piece out of his container and tasted the sweet, creamy, mushy rush of juices flow into my mouth. I was addicted. I thanked him for the cantelope and said I better be on his way. The next thing I knew I had a container of cantelopes and two bottles of water with a Maruchen instant noodle (Shrimp flava’!  ) in my backseat cooler. Has the hobo-giver really become the hobo? The hobo shows you the way, but only you must walk through.

Fun stuff!

Have a great day!

 

 

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