One Week On Mars

All I can say is that I am glad my parents aren’t around to see the depths to which I have descended. My Royal Consort and I have spent every night this week in a Walmart parking lot on our trip from Rhode Island to Arizona.

Among ordinary civilians, it is a little known fact that Walmart allows travelers and truck drivers to spend the night in their parking lots for free. When you are on a long road trip, it is intensely liberating to know that when you have hit the wall of exhaustion after a long day of traveling, rest and relaxation await you in a Walmart, just moments away.

As it happens, our travels coincided with the week before Christmas, which has given us excellent access to the nexus of consumerism, the spectacle that is any Walmart anywhere on any given day, the vagaries of geography and the horror that is main stream consumer Christmas. We have had the opportunity to observe Walmart and Walmart Christmas shoppers in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.

Before I go any further, let me say that we are grateful to Walmart for the free accommodations, the bathrooms, the free WiFi, and the access to anything in the world that we could ever imagine needing. We have not needed much, except a tiny digital clock, some paper towel, a condolence card and some sliced turkey. Without exception, the employees of Walmart have been incredibly friendly and helpful despite the endless tide of mostly miserable holiday shoppers they have to wait on day and night.

When My Royal Consort and I go walkabout each year, we are forced into an unholy alliance with Walmart. If we want to eat anything besides canned beans and iceberg lettuce, then we must shop at Walmart. Walmart has an outstanding vegetable aisle; it carries coconut milk, whole grain breads and a very respectable assortment of wines. When you are cooking out of a skillet and living in a closet for four and a half months, you get very, very excited about a robust vegetable aisle. I completely understand the many problems of Walmart, but I have caved like a cheap suit in my desire for good food.

All of this being said, snuggling up under the klieg lights in the Walmart parking lot on the week before Christmas has been fascinating in the way that watching a car accident or eye surgery is fascinating.

Each night, when we arrive at our chosen Walmart, we stop into the customer service desk to make sure that we can stay. We have a travelers’ app complete with reviews, so we know in advance that we will be fine, but it is always best to make our manners with the management to avoid any problems.

This week, the Walmarts have been in a state of unbridled pandemonium as exhausted working class folk mill around, filling their carts with crap they can’t afford. The business of Christmas is a cruel joke on the working poor, who are particularly susceptible to the blandishments of advertising and are powerless to resist the cultural expectations of the holiday.

Meanwhile, the smarty pants like My Royal Consort and I who are immune to The Holidays, remain smugly cognizant of the fact that while we might be sleeping in Walmart parking lots and showering in truck stops to save time and money on our way across country, we could just as easily stay in a campground. Our destination for Christmas is the town of Bisbee, Arizona where we are meeting our good time buddies Wayne and Sarah who like us, are on an extended meander.

This year we decided to haul ass out west without stopping and then take our time getting back east, the idea being that we would experience different flora and fauna at different seasons, and lessen the sense of sadness that comes with the drive back east across the heartland in the early spring.

P1000576Because we needed to be in Bisbee by Christmas Eve, were very disciplined in our itinerary. By four in the afternoon, we would be exhausted, so after having parked and gotten a beer in the Olive Garden, we would climb into our Casita, draw the blinds, put on some music and try to tuck in as early as possible under the midnight sun of the giant parking lot lights.

Eventually, the consumer frenzy going on outside would subside, and the parking area near shipping and receiving, where we often ended up, would get busy as giant semis full of cheap crap from China pulled in to deliver more stuff.

I have a particular affection for truck drivers and truck culture. I have observed that long distance truck driving is a profession in which men and women of any and all ethnicities can coexist. The other day, we watched a stunning African American female truck driver effortlessly maneuver her semi around us to back up to the loading dock. When she got out of the truck, she had on a fitted skirt and a flashed us a radiant smile and a wave when we apologized for getting in her way.

Of course, there is the desperate and down and out looking cohort of male truckers as well, but I now know better than to judge them because I have spoken to enough of them at truck stops to know that they are usually very nice people. This is why when a semi seemed to be having trouble getting around us in the lot, I did not think twice about popping out of our Casita, barefoot and braless, gesturing with half a tortilla in my hand to ask if he needed us to move. He rolled down his window, pointed to the two yapping mutts in his lap and said “These are my girls, ma’am”, assuming that I was a prostitute.

Later that night, after recovering from the hilarity that ensued from being mistaken for a lot lizard (and  being rejected), I had a bad case of the “caged animal” and could not stand another minute cooped up in a box. I needed some paper towels to do the dishes with, so I decided that I would break out some of my Rhode Island Red and make an expedition into the maelstrom.

As much as I enjoy smoking weed, I am a total lightweight. I dwell in the one hit realm, because if I smoke more than that I go from feeling happy and relaxed to paranoid and miserable. For a moment after entering the store, I had a thought that I might have taken myself out of my comfort zone by having had wine and then weed. I felt a teeny, tiny bit paranoid, but then had a look around and quickly realized that there was nothing I could possibly do to make myself look any weirder than anyone else. I was not over 200 pounds, I was not in a scooter or on oxygen, I was not wearing pajamas…

This calming sense of awareness quickly settled me down, and My Royal Consort and I set out on our journey of discovery. All around us were weary people picking our gifts. In the Girls’ Toy aisle we observed a harried man in a cheap suit with two little boys in tow, try to discern what he should buy for his daughter. In the aisles and aisles of sparkly, glittery, cheesy Christmas decorations, we marveled at the sheer madness of the whole Christmas enterprise. Somewhere in China, there is an entire village devoted to pumping out the decorations. People sacrifice their health and well being in the service of this thing that passes for Christmas here in America.

I love Christmas but only on my own terms. I love Advent at my Congregational church with the music, greenery and candles, I love the glittery, ropy Christmas decoration that Mexican Americans cheerfully wrap around random cacti on the side of western byways, I love eating jar sauce and spaghetti with my Royal Consort and my boys by candle-light on Christmas Eve in some far flung place.

We left the small Walmart outside of El Paso on Christmas Eve morning and took a gorgeous and peaceful ride along the Mexican border to Douglas, Arizona. We were the only people on the highway—when we stopped to pee on the side of the road, I figured that if anyone drove by and saw me hanging my bare butt over the side of a gully, it would be Wayne and Sarah who were behind us after having gone to Mexico for breakfast. Once we hit Douglas we went north just a tiny bit to our favorite haunt in Arizona, the beautiful city of Bisbee.

We first discovered Bisbee the year that my brother and I were on the outs and he refused to speak to me. I had been itching to rid myself of all the expectations and responsibilities that are foisted upon women and mothers at Christmas time, so our fight was an excellent reason to bail on the Ritual de la Habitual. That year, My Royal Consort and I and the two kids, spent Christmas Day hiking in Chiricahua. Once we got the bit between our teeth as far as saying no to commercial Christmas, we have never looked back and have enjoyed excellent, non-consumer driven, drama-free Christmas ever since.

This year has been a little bittersweet in that before leaving Rhode Island, we said goodbye to Thing Two until August, 2016. He is going to South America to study. Thing One works at a ski resort in Vermont so we knew from past experience that Christmas is his busiest time and the odds are good that we won’t see his beautiful face until April. Despite my reputation for being a dismantler of Christmas, this first year without the kids feels a little strange. I sought a lot of reassurance from them both, and they graciously, and I assume truthfully, bestowed it on me.

After seven nights in Walmart, innumerable fill ups along the 2,450 of interstate, a few truck stop showers, no electricity or running water, we arrived in Bisbee around midday. Wayne and Sarah pulled in behind us and we went for a much needed walk around town. Bisbee is built on a series of steep hills in the mountains. The houses are tiny and adorable, with pomegranate trees, rosemary, and cactus. There is artwork everywhere in the form of metal, glass and painting.

Our Christmas Eve was very merry, beginning with beers at our favorite dive bar, Saint Elmo, followed by a collaborative dinner concocted in Wayne and Sarah’s beautiful airstream. After sampling the tequila that they had thoughtfully procured for us in Mexico earlier in the day, we retired to our Casita with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. On Christmas Day Wayne roasted a turkey in a weber grill and Sarah and I made a bunch of side dishes. Tomorrow will be another day— the collective consumer orgasm  will have come to its shuddering completion, and the Christmas décor in Walmart will have been replaced by hearts and chocolate for Valentine’s Day.


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  1. Gary says:

    Merry Christmas!! You never cease to make me laugh with your wonderful ramblings (mean that as a compliment) and daring adventures (as spoken as a true, native Rhode Islander, where driving to Warwick from Barrington requires packing food :-).

    Here’s to a New Year of more adventures, and I wish you and your Royal Consort much Peace and Happiness together to come…

    1. admin says:

      I am so glad you enjoy the journey…so do we. Peace and happiness to you and your family this New Year. See you in the spring.

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