Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Las Chuparosas

 My computer faces the window next to the door. Every once in a while a hummingbird hovers there, looking in at me. That little ruby-throated hummer makes me smile. What is he thinking? I know he's not in search of food because I filled the feeder yesteday. Is he as curious about me as I am about him and his buddies?

We have two types of hummers here right now, the rubies and tiny green ones that are much smaller than their ruby-throated cousins. The green chuparosas normally hang out at my neighbor's feeder which is empty right now so they've come to mine. They're gentle, less argumentative and territorial. Six of them sit and feed quietly next to one another. Not so with the ruby throats who fight, battle, lunge.

Yesterday the feeder was nearly empty and as I reached for it the green hummingbirds remained perched and sipping. I brought the feeder closer and closer to my face. They stayed, eyeing me but not removing their straws from their sippy cup. Finally I had to shake them loose so I could refill the feeder.

This morning I woke cranky, worried, dejected, possibly rejected. But then the ruby throated visited outside my window. As I watched the dance of the hummingbirds my mood lightened. According to Native American lore, hummingbirds bring joy and love. They're just what I needed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back to More of Them

Whaaaa! The Canadian guys are gone. They sure livened up happy hour. I see a period of depression and readjustment in my immediate future. But here's a website of their artistic endeavors and a blog about their journeys through Mexico. They're on their way to Oaxaca. Go meet Robert and William.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guardian Books of the Year

One of my literary crushes selects a book written by one of my literary crushes as one of his favorite books of last year. Roddy Doyle picks Willy Vlautin's Lean on Pete. It's brilliant!!!

Roddy Doyle

Amy Bloom's collection Where the God of Love Hangs Out (Granta) is brilliant. The stories are shocking and lovely. Willy Vlautin's Lean on Pete (Faber) is only brilliant; I hated finishing it. Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light (Harvill Secker) is absolutely brilliant – a beautifully written love story and, somehow, a chunk of Irish social and political history. There's a section in the middle of Emma Donoghue's Room (Picador) that reminded me of reading Catch 22 when I was 15 – the same excitement, the same "I've never read anything like this before". The whole book is absolutely f**kin' brilliant.

I wrote a review of Lean on Pete on my secret website. I'll see if I can attach it here.

Damn you, Willy, for making a grown woman cry. I mean, really, I'm used to your gritty down-on-your luck stories and songs but you've never made me cry. There I was, reading this book as I watched pelicans dive for fish and I've got tears running down my cheeks. I hoped no one would see me. Especially a Mexican or a Seri Indian because I'd have a hard time explaining those tears in Mexican.
I hated myself for rushing through this book. It was like sitting down and eating a whole box of Cheez-its when it's your last box or really wishing you would've made that bottle of Tangueray last a little longer. I didn't want the book to end but I was anxious to see how it ended. Please have a happy ending, I begged as I raced through the pages.
I was in Portland last year and I was planning on seeing you at Music Millenium because your band Richmond Fontaine had just released a new album. I had already seen Pete Dexter at Wordstock and so I couldn't believe my luck that within a matter of days I would meet two of my favorite writers. But you got sick and had to cancel the Music M show.
A friend of mine knows you, knows your girlfriend so maybe I'll get to meet you one of these days. In the meantime, I'll need some time to recuperate from Lean on Pete. Too bad I drank all my gin.

Us and Them

Finally! There are more Us’es than Thems.
We realized our growing number when we held our own happy hour Friday night. How many were at the original gathering site over by the sea wall? We figured only a few. So last night we decided to give the group happy hour another shot. We added to our numbers when I heard there were two gay guys in the trailer park. “Go invite the gay guys to happy hour,” I told my friend and she ran right over to their little camper. “I do love my queens,” she always says.
Big circle of people. Food in the middle. Dogs on the periphery. One small section of the arc held Them. The majority of the circle was comprised of Us. Which meant real conversations were held. This is in sharp contrast to the usual happy hour gathering wherein the men tell the same stories over and over, guffawing over their lame humor, while the rest of us feign interest. Not so this night. Canadians. A Brit. People who’d traveled the world. No one was bragging or showing off. People were sharing stories; not holding court.
As the Them numbers dwindled, the Us’es could be our intellectual elitist selves. It was freeing and such a joy to not have every comment turned into a Fox soundbite. Snow in Atlanta? So much for global warming. Gulf oil spill? You bleeding heart liberals only care about the environment and not the poor fishermen. President Obama? Someone should shoot that N_____. (Yes, someone actually said that.) One guy is fixated on dirty jokes, minorities and women always his target.
I was pretty impressed that one of Them stuck around after the others had left. He even tried to get a fire going in the pit but the wood was too green. Finally it was too cold to stay out so we gathered up our chairs and our empty glasses and headed back to our “wobbly boxes.” For the first time since being in this gringo community I felt like a part of the group. Not the lone bleeding heart liberal in a circle of teabaggers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Luis Alberto Urrea

When I was younger, a teenager, I had movie star posters on my wall until my squirrel, Garfunkel, tore them down for her nest. Now if I had walls I’d tack up book jacket photos of my author crushes - Pete Dexter, Tim Winton, Colum McCann, Ian Rankin, Larry Brown, Nick Hornby, Charles Bowden, Willy Vlautin – to name a few. And Luis Alberto Urrea.
As my newest author crush, Luis should be grateful I’m too poor to leave Mexico thus saving him from a crazy stalker lady. With every book I read, my crush deepens. I’m liable to be thrown over the edge when book two of Hummingbird’s Daughter is published next year.
My first Urrea book was Devil’s Highway, the story of a disastrous immigrant crossing in the Sonoran Desert. I’d bought the book at 23rd Avenue Books in Portland for my southwest road trip. I was having lunch at a cafĂ© in Sonoita, Arizona, when I started Devil’s Highway. It is a terrific primer on the struggles immigrants – and Border Patrol – face in the Arizona desert. I was struck by Luis’ ability to write a remarkable story without glorifying or demonizing either side.
I’ve since owned and loaned three copies of Devil’s Highway including my hard cover edition. I guess some books are meant to travel. My copies have most certainly traversed the Sonoran Desert - and the border - many times.
Into the North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter followed. Then In Search of Snow and Nobody’s Son. I own Hummingbird’s Daughter in both English and Spanish (Hija de la Chuparosa). I had fantasies of sitting with my friend Edgar as he read the English version and I the Spanish. Never happened. Both books are above our abilities, even Edgar’s who speaks nearly perfect English.
Luis is my “friend” on Facebook. I love that he posts nearly every day. He also has a website I visit often. For now I am limited to cyber stalking.
When I have a house with walls his jacket photo will be there along with Willy, Pete, Colum et al. When I have a house with walls maybe he’ll come visit after a reading in Tucson. I can have him to dinner with Pete Dexter (who has a house in southern Arizona) along with Charles Bowden ‘cause he lives in Arizona too. Maybe Willy will stop by after a gig in Tucson with his band Richmond Fontaine.
You're never too old to dream. And you're never too old to have crushes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Load of Crap or Tales from the Shitter

Jose, the tattooist, fixed my toilet. He is multi-talented, inking skin one moment, removing toilets the next, in between building a picket fence. He speaks English. He is invaluable.

During my three-month absence this summer the seals (flange, plumber's wax, whatever) dried out and so the toilet leaked. Some ugly rusty looking substance oozed from the base. I feared it was a dead mouse but hoped it was just the toilet parts rusting away. I couldn't bear to look so I hired Jose to do the dirty work. Then I went to visit with Edgar.

When I returned the job was nearly complete. Jose had so throughly scrubbed all parts of the toilet that it was gleaming white. (I think its true color is cream. Oh well.) Jose said, "I am so happy with this job that I will give you a year's guarantee." Great because he re-seated it at a slight angle and now the linen closet door doesn't have room to open. A minor problem.

But Charlotte's was a major problem.

When Jose poured her concrete patio (see how diverse his skills!) he noticed a foul smell from under her trailer and saw a sewage leak. The day after my job he went to tackle hers.

RV LESSON: The black tank.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Long for the Days of Ma'am

Most women, when they hit their mid-forties or thereabouts, complain that they become invisible. Men no longer check them out when they walk into a room unless they're super beautiful or outrageously over the top in some way. For us normal women that invisibility goes hand in hand with being called ma'am. "Please, don't call me ma'am" I used to say to the waiter or barista. It made me feel so old.

Last fall I spent a couple months up in Portland. My friends all looked terrific. To me, they were locked in some sort of time capsule, looking exactly the same as when we'd met. Fit, lovely skin, great clothes. Not a botox needle or plastic surgeon's knife in sight. They were taking dance classes or music appreciation classes, traveling to Turkey or Italy, involved in book clubs where people actually read the books.

I felt so inadequate. My trailer trash life was taking its toll in the cultural department - no book clubs, movies, arts and lecture series. My finances put the kabash on fine clothes. In Portland, staying in real houses with real mirrors, I was shocked by my appearance. I looked terrible. I looked so old. Where had those puffy little red pouches under my eyes come from? Could my jowls sag any lower? My arms! Good grief. And then the coup de grace, baristas called me "sweetie."

Sweetie. A term reserved for little old ladies. I'd fallen into the sweetie camp. Partly due to my age and looks but also due to my height. At 4'11" I am the prototype for the little old lady.

Many years ago I sent my boyfriend a poem by a Chinese poet. It went something like this: When you are shocked by the image of the old man in the mirror, break the mirror.

I am happy to be in my little trailer with just the one bathroom mirror and the low lighting. My image is not screaming out for attention from hallway mirrors, bedroom mirrors, even kitchen mirrors. I can ignore the signs of aging. It's okay if you call me ma'am.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hermosillo Guidelines

Here are some tips should you encounter our favorite crooked cops in Hermosillo (the same works for cops in Rocky Point, San Carlos, etc.).

Before coming to Mexico make a copy of your driver's license so that it looks like a real driver's license. If you can. Some licenses may have holograms which make it obvious that it's a copy so I don't know how that will affect the copy and if the Mexican police will even notice. Anyway, make a copy, get it laminated, make it look as close to the real McCoy as you can. That way, when you get pulled over and the policia ask for your driver's license and threaten not to return it until you fork over 500, 800, whatever pesos, you can say fine, keep it, adios, and drive off.

Do not speak Spanish. At all. Not one little word. (Skip the adios as mentioned above.) It helps if you get belligerent and say What, you don't speak English? as Charlotte did. It scared the hell out of them and they sent us on our way.

The cops lie in wait for gringos on the Hermosillo to Kino bypass. Pay attention to the speed limit. If you don't have km markings on your speedometer, write the mph to kmph conversion down somewhere so you'll know.

On Blvd Progresso which is a newly paved six lane road on the bypass you'll need to make a left turn on Dr. Antonio Quiroga. Do not get in the left lane too soon. Stay in the right lane. Some friends just got taken for 800 pesos because big rigs are not supposed to be in the primera lane, the fast lane.

Carry a camera. Take the cops' pictures. Write down the badge numbers. Photograph their license plates.

Don't carry a wad of pesos. Reach into your wallet, flip it open, pull out the measly little 100 peso bill you have there and shrug and say I'm sorry, that's all I got.

If worse comes to worse and you're not speeding or driving in the wrong lane, say Fine, take me to the station. They don't want to do that. It cuts into their shakedown time.

I think people need to let the Sonora Tourism offices know every time they get pulled over.

As for me, I've managed to sneak through without getting pulled over. Here's what I do: I pray to the angels to put up a shield so that I'm invisible to the police (but not to other drivers; this is a tricky request but they're up to it). I have two NO SB1070 stickers on the van side windows, a Mexican flag hanging from the viser, a Virgin of Guadalupe decal on the back window. And it doesn't hurt that I drive a rusted blue van that looks like a Mexican shuttle bus.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter Camp for Seniors

I've often wondered why it is that snowbirds head south to the same location year after year. It's not that these people don't have a sense of adventure; after all, it takes courage to drive a 45-foot motor coach or tow a 39-foot trailer thousands of miles, especially if Mexico is your destination. Yesterday, as I welcomed two returning snowbird couples back to the park, it dawned on me that this experience is like being a kid and going to summer camp, a place where you caught up with friends from other parts of the city, state or country; a place where you romped in the sun, camped out, did arts and crafts. That is the snowbird experience.

Even though the snowbirds are camping in campers that have all the luxuries of home (and in some instances are their homes), they're still camping. They're enjoying the sun and the outdoors unlike their friends in Minnesota or Oregon. They're doing arts and crafts; the women bead, sew, work in the glass house on stained glass projects. The men read, play poker, fish, and when they're especially bored yearn for a system malfunction on someone's rig. (I'm waiting for the right moment to spring my leaking toilet on a couple of them.) Instead of nightly campfires, the snowbirds sit in a circle for nightly happy hours. They have beanbag tossing championships.

The difference is that unlike summer camp kids, these winter camp seniors don't have a lot of new stories to tell or experiences to relate. No stories of school or groundings or boyfriends. Here's how it works at senior camp: the new people arrive, join happy hour, and update the group on the surgeries they had over the preceeding six months. Once that's out of the way, we're back to the same old same old stories, usually from the men holding court. The women politely feign interest. Wives laugh at jokes they've heard a hundred times. Some roll their eyes. Finally last year the women began breaking off into their own groups which I thought was a great idea. I think we have much more interesting stories to tell.

Things will be different this year. The Canadians have chosen not to return for one reason or another - dirt, dogs, Mexico travel advisories. "Our" Canadians are heading to an RV park in Yuma where they will still have that summer camp experience only without the water and that pesky language barrier. This year some people have moved on - and I mean MOVED ON. This year some women from Bisbee will be coming down on the occasional weekend so we'll have an infusion of progressive blood.

So the migration south has started. Let camp begin.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I'm waiting for work to come in, knowing that as soon as I walk away from the computer a file will be uploaded and someone else will grab it (it's an audio transcription job). That happened this morning when I went searching for wood with Charlotte and Chapo. The wood is for Charlotte's propane tank enclosure. Chapo is the guy who is building it. Chapo means "shorty" in Mexican. I'm Chapita. I think he's my soulmate.

Chapo isn't much taller than I am so when we hug it's a full-body press. And what a body! He is strong, muscular, not an ounce of fat. He has short gray hair, dimples, dazzling eyes. My favorite activity is to sit and watch Chapo work so when Charlotte said he was coming by, I headed over for a cup of Folger's.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bichi on the Beach

Skinny dipping at this age is like a scene from the movie Cocoon. It probably ain't pretty but the regenerative powers are nearly the same.

After admonishing a friend about the dangers of skinny-dipping in Mexico (cops, fishermen, beheadings and plain old cultural differences, i.e. only putas would go naked on the beach), I didn't hesitate to shimmy out of my clothes when we decided to skinnydip in the night. We walked away from a family's beach bonfire, risking exposure by one of the security lights at Islandia. The surf glimmered white. As did our round white butts. What a vision! Was it Lawrence Welk who encouraged his TV audience to follow the bouncing balls over song lyrics so we could sing along? That's what I imagined our butts looked like. Slightly deflated bouncing balls as we ran into the sea.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Bad Review

I prefer writing reviews of books I like. That said, I find this book so insufferable that I have to vent. How'd something like this get published? How'd she snag an agent? Her query letter must've been fantabulous.

I picked this book up because it has a storyline that appeals to me. It involves ranching, illegal immigrants, love. I really liked the cover. (I'm a sucker for good packaging which is why my last shampoo was from L'Oreal. Lumenescent purple tube with salmon-colored cap. Pretty. It looked expensive.) I checked this book's reviews on Amazon dot com and most were good but only a few readers commented. I'm thinking now they were written by friends of the author, her agent, maybe someone at the publishing house.

It's a book where I have to read a sentence more than once in order to figure out what the author is saying. I can't follow. Always a fan of run-on sentences (I think mine are unfairly targeted by the writers in my writing group), hers are making me rethink my fondness. For instance this: "Also, she produced a very nice foal every three years or so for her owner Mary Friel, who loved her devotedly, as did Alice, to whom she was a regular source of income, a great trail mount, and an occasional schoolmistress in dressage." Huh? We're talking about a horse here but I did wonder if the owner wasn't the source of income. Maybe it's me. I prefer my writing sharp, to the point, like Willie Vlautin's or James Ellroy's.

And speaking of Ellroy, that man's a dialogue wizard. This author's dialogue SUCKS! I know bad dialogue; the dialogue in my book sucks, too, which is why I keep it to a minimum. Not only do conversations in this book feel forced and unreal but the characters are always calling each other terms of endearment such as sweet-hot, toots, kid, slick, my love.... You get the drift. I actually roll my eyes and murmur not another one! I'm writing them down. Sweet-hot!!

Sixty-five pages in and I may give up. I don't want to. I have very few books to read. I could go to the trailer park office where the gringo snowbirds leave their paperbacks but they're mostly Tom Clancys or Nora Roberts. I'm not that desperate for reading material. Yet.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I sit on the sofa in front of the laptop staring at the screen, hands in my lap. Every once in a while I pick at a cuticle. I want to continue working on the memoir's pitch, the agent query letter, but I've hit a snag. I see some changes I want to make in the book but I should stick with the query, not get sidetracked. The mice are still here in the trailer. I should clean more cabinets, maybe bring in the live trap. My cup of coffee is nearly empty; I should brush my teeth. I'm distracted by my sister's photos on facebook. Maybe if I walked on the beach, something would sort itself out. But is it already too hot? At least the humidity is less because of a storm that moved in last night. I worried about two friends who went nighttime squid fishing. I assumed they would seek shelter on Turner Island but you never know. Sometimes these things sneak up on you. I dreamt about them. I  still wander in that dreamspace even though it's nearing noon. The guys showed up about 8 this morning, safe. I've had no income for nearly two months. What will I do about that? Even with the internet it's difficult to find work from Mexico. There are forms that need to be signed, mailed back...

I feel stuck.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back in Kino

I didn't look forward to returning to Kino.

I didn't look forward to the two checkpoints on Hwy 15. Supposedly we can now only bring $75 worth of personal items duty-free into Mexico. My body lotions and shampoo came to that alone not to mention my two liters of gin and 1.75 liter bottle of Jack Daniels for a friend. The groceries. The toilet paper, paper towels and ziplock baggies. But I got green lights at both places. The federales in Cibuta merely waved.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crossing at Nogales

One day my friend Kathi and I went to Nogales on a booze and cigarette run. While waiting in line to declare our citizenship and our purchases, we witnessed a way to cross the border illegally right under the customs agents' noses.

There were two lines open that day and the third, the line next to ours, was closed. A trashcan had been placed in front of the turnstile. An older Mexican man was directly in front of me. In front of him a younger man. At a signal from the older man, the younger guy dropped to the floor and scooted over to the turnstile and moved the trashcan out of the way. There he squatted just a foot from our agent's back. After another signal from the older man, he got back in line.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Reaper's Line

Lee Morgan II is someone I'd probably enjoy running into at the Longhorn in Amado, Arizona. We'd sit down over beers and he'd regale all present with tales of his life as a Customs Service Special Agent busting drug smugglers while having to deal with corruption on both sides of the border. Mr. Morgan never holds back - not in his language, not in his feelings about both governments, not in naming names. I was curious to see if he would mention an old neighbor of mine who used to work the border and sure enough, there he was, a man Lee has no respect for and he doesn't hide that fact.

I wish more people would read this book given today's illegal immigration fury. Lee writes how important it is to make a distinction between the dope smugglers crossing our southern border and the poor people who come north looking for jobs. He paints the Minutemen and other vigilante groups as racist and a dangerous hindrance for law enforcement. I was sickened by the chapter on the Barnett brothers who own a ranch in Cochise County and who at one point wanted to have "safari adventures for people who wanted to track down illegal aliens."

It's also interesting to read about the obstacles agents face in trying to do their jobs - for instance, they have no radio contact with highway patrol. How crazy is that? Pretty fucking nuts and he'll guarandamntee that!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Airstreams and SOBs

Why I chose an Airstream...

Airstream aficionados - or Airstreamers - speak disdainfully of Some Other Brands (SOBs). You know, all those motor coaches and trailers that look alike inside and out. Can you tell the difference between a Dolphin or a Gulf Stream as you pass one on the highway? No, not until you see its name splashed across its side or back. But I bet you know an Airstream when you see one.

When I started this adventure, I didn't want to be an RVer, someone who lives in any old SOB. I wanted to be an Airstreamer. What do you envision when you think of RVs? Concrete parks with forty-foot motor coaches lined up one next to the other, barely enough room to open an awning. When you think of Airstreams, don't you picture lonely desert highways? That is what I wanted.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nirvana in the Sonoran Desert

When I left Portland, Oregon, six years ago I wasn't quite sure where I'd live once I reached the desert. In Tucson I toured various RV parks around town, most of which were 55 and older parks. As I drove through paved and neatly landscaped parks in my one-ton van, my throat would tighten. Panic would wash over me as I thought I can't live in one of these places. I don't fit in here. American flags waved from nearly every RV site. Lively senior citizens waved from golf carts.

About 30 miles south of Tucson I came across a former KOA recognizable by its A-frame office building. The Santa Rita Mountains rose in the background. In the front of the park were about 50 RV sites; in the back was the mobile home area. People and trailers of all shapes, sizes and ages stayed there, not just overnight campers or snowbirds but people who lived there year round: retirees, working stiffs, disabled vets, druggies. It was my kind of place.

I lived at that park for two years. There I found nirvana. Or my version at least. I was never as happy as I was there. Oh sure, life wasn't perfect. I had my moments of worry and doubt especially when dealing with arrogant bastards, with living in a red state, with listening to rants directed at Hispanic people whether they lived in the U.S. legally or not.

After leaving the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, I went to the Sonoran Desert in Mexico.

This blog is not only about life in that park and life in Mexico but it's about finding your place in the world. It's about finding peace and contentment. It's about finding a spiritual path without having lots of money and the means to travel to countries whose names begin with the letter "I".

It's about trailer park life.