Surviving the pandemic on the road

One of the small joys of the last year has been the home recorded concerts by loved artists. Tallest Man on Earth did some lovely ones, which felt like he was playing the guitar for some close friends, doing covers that people requested, and being generally charming. It was intimate and sweet and felt like a real gift. I started seeking these out around the time the wonderful John Prine passed away. Adrienne Lenker recorded Summer’s End as sympathetically as if it were her own, Illegal Smile in a kooky headlamp lit homage, and Far From Me, with its sweet story. When I think of Prine I think of these sweet story songs. She is an excellent guitarist, and just her in a cabin with her gorgeous Collings (I think it’s a Collings), wearing a beanie, was a real treat. It felt like we were at war, but were holding on together. People got tired of that, but it was special while it lasted.

The pandemic didn’t really hit me in the same way as other people. When it started I was living in the camper, in a forest by the sea. We had enough money to pay the day to day camping, we were pretty good campers – kept a clean camp, paid on time, and basically were left alone for months at a time, moving from spot to spot over winter. Then one day a Ranger knocked on our door and told us we had to go, that the campground was being forced to close. I protested that we LIVED like this, we weren’t on vacation, that this WAS our home. We were told to go home. I explained I was at home. This was home, and so it went round and round in a circular argument of “go home…I am home’. I’m not usually argumentative, I’d move on whenever I was asked to, but this time I was upset. It wasn’t fair. People who were known, who live like this, who camp host, or live on the road should never have been forced to leave. We could spread out, we were not on vacation. It was our water, our sewer hook up, it was the only place we had to live even vaguely cleanly.

Rows of living-on-the-road campers sat outside their vans, looking glum and worried. Dogs barked anxiously, the children of the living-camping people, my own son included, all developed this pinched look of fear. We had money – we just didn’t have anyone who was willing to take it and let us rest our wheels and live somewhere.

Private spaces for RV’s started to charge outrageous prices, price gouging, and besides the RV would not pass any residential park rules – we were over twenty years old. We had a little rust, a few dings, our windows were covered in a mish mash of fabrics. No RV’s over ten years old. No more than one person, definitely no children. The sewer would be shut down, no dumps, nowhere for us to dump our waste from our bathroom, or the grey water tanks. The water faucets would be out of reach – nowhere for us to fill tanks. Public bathrooms closed. Stay home, we were told….but home became impossible.

We were lucky – someone we knew offered us the pad outside their house for a reasonable price. It was noisy, on a very busy road, it was not very nice, we couldn’t really sit outside, and no fires, but there was a sewer hook up, a water hook up, and there was electric. We were overjoyed. So there we sat…staying home.

As Lenker sang Summer’s End, it started to occur to me that it was over. Our five year summer was on the rocks. Our world had ceased to be livable. Camping as a way of life was over. Previous to this as the years wore on, camping became more popular, our usual empty spots became totally overwhelmed with tourists, prices went up, it became cramped and uncomfortable and busy. Our camper was tagged, insured, in good working order, but it was not pretty, not pretty at all, so no residential places would take us. Summers had become untenable – driven out by tourists, tourists living our life for a week, then running home to hot running water. Winters were wet and cold and harsh, but I loved them, because they were empty of the dreaded tourists. I could barely say the word without spitting. Tourists driving up prices, tourists slamming the local shops, then when the shortages in food and toilet paper hit, tourists came to our little seaside down and drained it dry, a plague of locusts from Eugene, from Crescent City, from Medford and Grant’s Pass, taking our meagre supplies, loading it into their cars, and going back inland with the last remaining toilet roll in the western hemisphere. I started to look at license plates. “California!” I’d yell. “Fucking California! Coming here and buying all the soap!” Yeah…it had really got to me. I started to want to close the door and never come outside.

The calm just before the pandemic hit hard

In the end it wasn’t the pandemic which ended it, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Billy. I had had enough of his excuses. Excuses for drinking, excuses for being the laziest man on the planet, excuses for his awful adult kids and their appalling behavior towards me and my son. The final excuse he made was for his ex-wife putting me and my son in danger with her behavior. I told him to go fucking live with her then, got into a big yellow taxi and slammed the screen door closed. The pandemic pushed me there, but it was him that tipped me over the edge. Soko had this song “I still looking for a father, so I cannot have a lover now.” That was us. The much older Billy had always been the father I was looking for, he cared for me, I felt protected by him. I only recognize that now I’ve gone, and have no intention of ever returning. He told me I wasn’t really a lesbian, and I told him I was never really straight, but I cared about him. The end. Kind of. Almost.

I didn’t watch TV for years, I never had reliable internet, so when I found myself in SF, with access to real people things like fast speed net, I went to town. I sat and watched the at home concerts, I watched plays being put on with no audiences, I watched the world struggle to survive and adapt. It all hit me rather funny. I was used to struggling in my life, I was used to having to adapt and struggle and fight to survive, but seeing other people having to made me very uncomfortable. My world was meant to be a mess – other people’s world was not. I had social vertigo. I panicked. You guys who are not me are not meant to be in disarray! That is my job! The political situation got intense, and it did nothing to calm me down. It was just meant to be MY world that was ending, not the world in general. Then things started to settle into the new normal. My new normal was doubly new: living inside again, plus getting used to living in a world that has a virus that is killing a lot of people, and could kill me. I compensated by wearing two masks, three! Gloves! I scrubbed and disinfected. I made my own hand sanitizer. I stared at the boy scrubbing his hands for the twenty seconds required and then told him to do it again. People…I washed groceries. I have started to chill out a bit. I wipe things over, I wash my hands, and it has to be good enough. I cannot survive at that intensity. I wear my mask over my nose, and I expect others to do the same with varying success rates. If I feel in danger, I leave.

Now, six months in, summer truly ended, winter come and gone and summer coming round again, I am almost used to living inside. I almost don’t get confused when I wake up. I am almost used to being in the city. I almost don’t miss the road and the wilderness. I feel like a wolf that has been tempted into domestication with treats and a comfy bed, too old to want to hunt anymore. I accept the leash and the collar, and the pats on the head…most of the time.

4 thoughts on “Surviving the pandemic on the road

  1. bmaneval says:

    Very well composed. You did well emoting your angst. Tourists suck! The pandemic sucks. Great read. Will check out more of your material.

    1. The Paltry Sum says:

      Thank you! I hope you find something you enjoy reading! Tourists do indeed suck. Can’t stand tourism. One of the only good things about the pandemic was that the ravening hordes slowed down their insatiable lust for vacationing. It makes it miserable for everyone, and anyplace that is nice to live, always attracts the daytrippers.

Leave a Reply