Things You Wouldn’t See Back Home

“Cheap Cigarettes” – words you’d expect in the window of a gas station, but in the foyer of a library?  $1.50 a pack for Seneca cigarettes it said.  He had examples to show me it said.  Wish I’d taken a picture of that sign for you all to see….

Craving chocolate, I stopped by the local drug store.  No luck in the front of the store, so I wandered to the back where I found I could buy a hot dog at the snack bar.  A couple of people occupied the stools in front of the counter.  A quick glance at the menu overhead told me they weren’t selling chocolate.  That, combined with the “you’re-not-from-around-here” looks the counter staff gave me caused me to move toward the pharmacy.  Bingo.

Oh, but if it were only that easy.  Time moves differently down here.  So I patiently waited as the woman in front of me was helped – not just with her prescription, but then to a nearby bench because she’d been standing on her bad leg too long.  “And can you get me a bigger bag so I can put all my stuff in it?” she asked the pharmacist, who eagerly attended to her every need.  My father would have made some under-his-breath comment at this point, but I have a little of my mother’s patience in me as well, so I didn’t mind waiting – all the more time to decide between a Milky Way and Peanut M&M’s.  I chose the latter – priced at seventy-three cents.  Seventy-eight with tax.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten a candy bar for less than a dollar.  But even more peculiar was this:  other candy bars were seventy or seventy-seven cents.  I can only imagine the guy that pores over the books for this place.

Adelaide and I then headed back to the Folk School.  For those of you that don’t know, she conked out the day after I got here.  With a jump, she could get going, but then lose all her power after an overnight in the parking lot.  She’s back to working now.  But there’s a big hole where my radio used to be.  But that’s a story for another day.  The important thing is that today, I got a much-needed top-down drive into town.

In other news, I’m taking a spinning class this weekend.  When I told this to my youngest sister last night, I felt the need to qualify that statement: Spinning as in wool, not bikes.  For those of you that still have no idea, go back to your childhood fairy tale books and re-read Sleeping Beauty.  Pay careful attention to the part where she pricks her finger…

Why Wait?

“Do you always come down here with someone else?” I asked Lois last night at dinner.

“Oh, no.  No need to wait that long,” she said.  My sentiments exactly.  If we wait for the ideal travel partner (or any travel partner, for that matter), we may never go.  So when people say, “You’re doing all this alone?”  I give a matter-of-face “Yes” with a look that says, “of course.”   Because life’s too short to wait:)

And here’s another thing about traveling alone: you meet a whole bunch more people that way.  Well, if you’re the type that strikes up conversations easily you sure do.  The other day, while trading stories with someone about the best places we’ve been, a gentleman said this to me about Montana: I didn’t believe in God til I went out there.  Only God could create something that beautiful.  Now doesn’t that make you want to drive out there and see what he’s talking about?  What’s stopping you?

Speaking of beautiful places, on Wednesday I drove what might be one of the most scenic roads in the country.  I haven’t driven every road in the country, so I can’t say for sure.  But the Blue Ridge Parkway ranks right up there with the drive through Glenwood Canyon on I-70 in Colorado. Yes, Italy holds a special place in my heart.  But the US of A has some absolutely stunning countryside.  Pictures won’t do it justice, but I’ll try.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Adelaide - my (usually) trusty travel companion - overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

Not to say I couldn’t have seen all this with a human travel companion.  But why wait?

Adelaide + Me = 90,000 miles

I pulled into the gas station and paused to make heads or tails of the place.  There must have been twenty different pumps and cars going every which way.  I drove slowly though the maze.  A woman rolled down her window as our cars approached one another.  “Oh dear,” I thought.  “Am I going the wrong way?  She’s probably going to yell at me.”  I’m from New York.  This is my default thought when someone rolls down their window while looking at you.

As she drove by, she gave me a big smile and said, “Nice car!”  I smiled back.  “Thanks!” I said.

This happens a lot.  People love my car.  And feel the need to tell me so.  I drive a Beetle convertible.  And when the top is down, I am no longer an anonymous driver behind closed windows.  I’m out there for everyone to see.  And therefore for everyone to talk to.

Now that I think about it, a convertible is probably the ideal car for me.  When I put the top down, my mood immediately improves.  Here’s why:

1 –  I love teaching and public speaking, which means I love being on stage in any situation.  Who knew I could be the center of attention just by driving down the road?

2 – I love meeting new people – with the top down, wherever I pull in, it’s an automatic conversation starter.

3 – If I’m putting my top down that also means it’s warm outside.  And anyone who knows me knows I’m a much happier person when it’s warm outside.

4 – I’m a multi-tasker.  Thanks to Adelaide, I can tan and drive at the same time.  Prior to owning a convertible, I was a lovely shade of white most of the year.  Sitting outside in direct sunlight is not my favorite activity.  It’s hot.  And boring.  But in a convertible, the sun can do it’s thing to my skin while I only feel the wind.  Three hours later, boom.  I have a tan.  Or a burn if I forget to put on sunscreen.

Yesterday, not too long after I crossed from Maryland into Pennsylvania, my odometer hit 90,000 miles.  This is not like a traditional birthday where you say, “And here’s to another 90,000!”  No, I won’t be with her that much longer for sure.  We’ve surely had our ups and downs.  So much so that I won’t be buying another VW, but that’s another story.

But for those who see all the different jobs I’ve had, and all the different places I’ve lived and think that perhaps I can’t commit to anything, you’re wrong for a lot of reasons.  Here’s one: I’ve been with the same car for four years:)


The Census

A gentleman commented on my car the other day.  This happens all the time.  When you own a newer version of a car that everyone over a certain age seemed to have had at one point in their lives, they want to tell you their story.  I’ve heard a lot of VW Bug stories.

I noticed he was carrying a Census bag.  I asked about it and then mentioned that I worked on the 2000 Census.  He knitted his eyebrows together and stared at me.  “You were old enough to work during the last census?”

Turns out I was.  It wasn’t something I ever thought I’d actually do.  But when I was working as a Park Ranger in the Fall of 1999, a guy came to the ticket desk and asked if we could post the sign he was holding.  The sign advertised Census jobs and the number to call to take the test.  One hung in our back room where the seasonal employees would see it.  I’m figuring someone knew that most Park Rangers are seasonal employees and would be looking for work after their term was up (like me).  I stared at that poster as it hung in the back room.  When my term was up at the end of the year I knew I was going to Europe for a month, but hadn’t any clue what I was doing after that.  Though I didn’t really think I’d need it, I took down the number.

When I came back from Europe at the end of January, 2000, I started scouring want ads trying to find something that would spark my interest.  Nothing did.  I traveled up to Vermont where my uncle suggested I could use my clinical experience (minimal though it was) and my computer experience to get a job at a medical software company up there.  I never did apply for that job.

I spent most of February 2000 wondering how I was ever going to find that “one thing” that I’d want to do for the rest of my life.  I had not yet learned that it was possible to not have to pick one thing at all.

Getting desperate, I thought I’d take the census test.  At least it would be something to fill my time while job searching.  I aced the test and was called a couple weeks later to come in for the training.  I went through a week of learning how the government goes about counting the population of the entire country and why it’s so important.  Then I took an oath promising to protect the country “against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  This may sound odd for a census taker, but I had to take the same oath when I worked for the park service, so it didn’t phase me anymore.

At the end of the class, the instructor (who was to be our boss) asked if I would like to be his assistant instead of walking door-to-door.  He told me what it would entail, and I agreed.  So I never ended up knocking on doors asking people who had yet to turn in their census to fill it out with me.  Instead, I would travel around meeting up with people who were doing just that – my fellow classmates.  I would take all the paperwork they had completed that day, review it, and help them problem-solve any issues they were having.  Then, I’d go meet with my boss and the other assistant at a local diner where we would gather all our paperwork and bring to him any problems we couldn’t resolve.

This was also the first and only job where I’ve ever had to fire people.  If employees were not following procedures or seemed to be claiming more hours than their work showed, it was my job to ask them to account for their time and warn them of what we were seeing.  If they didn’t shape up, I was the one to tell they we were letting them go – and then fill out a bunch of forms explaining why.

At one point in my census term a trainer was unable to do one of his scheduled trainings.  I can’t recall how it was that I came to get that job, but one week I found myself conducting the training that I myself had been through just a couple months earlier.  I was a mere 23 and most if not all of my students were older than me, but that didn’t really bother me.  I knew I knew what I was talking about and felt confident in my ability to speak in front of groups.  I had been a tour guide on my college campus, and then as a park ranger – I knew I loved to train and teach but didn’t yet realize what a gift that truly was.

The census has a bunch of different phases.  Official “Census Day” was April 1, 2000.  Prior to that day, we were in a “mapping” phase, where we would go around looking at the maps the previous phase had come up with and working on editing them – drawing in new developments, new houses – making sure every dwelling was on our map.  After April 1, anyone who hadn’t yet turned in their census got a knock on their door.

I can’t recall how many phases of which I was part.  I left my census job at the end of June – about to do something my mother had a few months earlier tried to convince me would never happen.  I was about to prove her wrong.