Writing does not make me happy. Writing is fraught with worry that I will upset people, that they will take it personally, that I can’t be free to say what I want to say how I want to say it. I get tongue-tied so easily. I get accused of anger, of directing my scattershot upset of experience towards the reader, who takes it personally no matter how I reassure or defend myself. This is how I am. These words are my room of my own, and Ill behave how I want to within it. I don’t have much for myself, don’t take this from me. In the end I have two choices, I write, or I allow myself to be sorry, to worry about others and how they take what I write. I allow myself to worry about Mr. Charming and how he will take my discussing his abuses, should he ever find my writing and read it. Kerouac had advice for this: “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” Jack has good advice for most situations I’ve found myself in. He wrote the rules of the road, I just chose to follow them. All my very best friends are dead, it would appear.
So if you are offended by what I write, don’t read it. I’ve reams that I’ve self censored on feminist issues, on my views of American politics, I think I need to start saying If you are offended, Ill pin my colors to Ginsburg’s rainbow-promise mast of artistic freedom, and say it is my right to say what I want to say, how I want to say it, and if you think you see yourself reflected here, and you are upset at how I see you, then go look at yourself some more and ask yourself why it matters what I think. I’m just on the road. Home/less. I’m the hobo doing her washing in the campground in a blue bucket, hanging it from twine from the trees, I’m the one who is spoiling your whole fucking vacation by simply living.
I’m the one who got chased out of campgrounds and the life I partly chose to live and partly got thrown into, thrown off the road because all the campgrounds got shut down with nary a thought for those of us who needed to be there in order to stay at home.
The campgrounds and national parks were not only my home, they are home for many of America’s very poorest people. Some only have tents, some just have a car, others still have trailers or elderly campers like Beastie. They live on the road, bouncing from campground to campground. Sometimes your neighbors move with you. You bump into each other in various showerblocks and bathrooms, you see them on the roads, you leave the customary two spaces between you and them and pass by holding your canteen of tea and talk about the vagaries of camp hosts and tourists, camper plumbing systems and which shower has hot water.
If your dog was led by you to my front room, yards from where I’m living and cooking and trying to stay alive and clean, and you encourage your dog to poop on my space not your own, I will tell you to fuck off. Fuck off with your jeeps and your toss ring games and your vacation. Some of us are trying to live. Some of us don’t pass the rules to live in curiously fussy trailer parks and don’t want to stay in one depressingly deprived drug infested cramped park. Some of us need to move.
Now I don’t get to move around. In the last year of our camping out, out of the five years we spent on the road, our wings had been clipped by Billy’s failing sight and desire to remain near southern Oregon and close to people who detested him, making me unhappy for no discernable reason whatsoever, other than I don’t matter and other people seem to. There are worse places than SF to have your wings clipped. I love this city, for better or worse, for poorer and poorer still.
Back at the start of things we always seemed to be trying to get to the coast. It was like being bounced backwards and forwards, heat to cool, inland to the seaside, in some strange cosmic pinball machine. From Lake Isabella we ended somehow in Salinas. All roads seem to lead to Salinas. Salinas drags you towards it, catches you up and tries to hold on you whilst simultaneously spitting you out for being too hot, too cold or too lukewarm. Salinas itself is permanently hot in more ways than one. It is a town that lives on a knife edge of civilization, constantly threatening to jump off a cliff, jagged and lethal, only to be dashed on the rocks below. Salinas is a jumble of roads, of turns that lead nowhere, of a circular labyrinth that seeks to drag you deeper whilst promising tantalizing glimpses of the freeway out of there. It was in Salinas that we stopped at a Subway, not for over priced sandwiches, but for directions. In the parking lot a mariachi band tipped out of their peeling battered old Volkswagen van and into the dust and pollution of a Salinas afternoon. They were dressed up and carrying music cases and exuding an atmosphere of don’t-fuck-with-us-we-will-cut-you. I thought it better not to mess with them, but Billy went up and asked them directions to a road that led back to the freeway north. They shrugged in Spanish, and pointed towards the Subway. We all piled in there, the young woman serving was talking to an older woman who had three small children and a baby corralled by a table. They were heavily involved in some personal drama, some private conversation. I smiled, got her attention, ordered a coffee, and asked for a way out of Salinas. She might have said that she would leave too if she could. She might have laughed and put Hotel California on the jukebox if she was a waitress in a bar, but being a kind maker of sandwiches, instead she gave us confusing directions that I tried to memorize, and passed me some bitter scaldingly hot coffee. I pushed a few coins towards her on top of the money for the coffee, and the children happily duckling-trailed me out to the car with patient but concerned faces. An uneasy tension hung in the air as solid as a question mark. If you could freeze a bar of lead, and drop it into a boiling cauldron, you might get some kind of idea of how Salinas felt that day.
“Billy,” I said, “I don’t know if we can make it out of here. I’m beginning to wonder if this is it. If we are going to be stuck in Salinas forever. Every road seems to lead right back to where we are sitting, or else back to the south. Salinas feels like it is about to explode in some kind of revolutionary tension, and I don’t know if I have ever been so tired. I just want to get out of here, find a campground and stop, park up. Have a nice day.” This was our eternal quest. To have a nice day. Voicing concerns and the desire to have a nice day invariably conjured up trouble of kinds that we were never prepared for. A blown tire. A busted solenoid. A full campground. A black-and -grey water dump shut down due to either capriciousness or blockage, or sometimes both simultaneously. Our gas tank always seemed to be empty and our water waste always full.
I was hungry. The kids picked at apples and bread, sliced meats and tomatoes sprinkled with salt and roadside stall limes. Sometimes we would come across roadside stalls selling avocados. Huge bags for a buck. A far cry from the rarified avocado scams of the grocery stores, that palm off avocados that are mainly stone, and partly grey, and cost you at least a few bucks for the privilege. Billy used to joke that I would run off with a seller of avocados, some handsome man named Miguel with an endless supply of the object of my affections. Yes, I was hungry, we needed to find a cheap meal, we needed to get out of Salinas. We needed a lot of things. Billy needed to sleep. He turned the key, said a small prayer to the God of little things, when the engine jolted into life, and we headed off down the road, semi bald tires, no maps, and no sleep. I shared the coffee with Billy. I knew I shouldn’t have bought it, it was a couple of bucks we could not afford to waste, but it was the toll to get the heck out of here.
Left. Right here, that is correct. Roads failed to be named, cross roads went unlabelled. How does any city planner expect anyone to navigate if they do not label roads at junctions. Then I saw the sign, hidden partially by branches that needed clipping. To the 5, NORTH. Hallelujah! Right, right here, I yelled, this exit, this one, take it take it, Billy. NOW! He hauled on the bowline, turned the good ship Beastie quickly into the right hand lane, and over into the sliproad. Everything slid forwards. Water containers, boxes of CD’s hurtled towards me, books, the cupboard door flew open spilling cans and cereal on the floor. I yelled to the kids, asked if they were ok, anyone hurt by a can of beans or a copy of Karl Marx, or perhaps a box set of the complete Velvet Underground with added sleeve notes? No one was hurt. We had made it onto the road that led to the 5. I regarded the blacktop ahead with suspicion. This was not yet the 5 north, or anywhere at all. This was some plain ugly bit of road that led past abandoned strip malls and empty fields with realtors signs. I opened the KOA 2015 directory. I turned to the California maps, picked out a KOA and set the course for somewhere other than Salinas. The 5 appeared, we made our way shakily into the stream of traffic, and were headed north once again.
Salinas appeared in the rear view mirror. I blessed the waitress in the Subway sandwich joint, and headed on down the road and I was not sorry, not sorry in the slightest to see it disappear and head onto the next adventure.