Perpetual Stranger in a Strange Land

I’ve a friend who lives in her Airstream but travels less than we do; she and her husband own a parking pad in a little Airstream community that they use as a home base.  So we share quite a bit in terms of lifestyle, but we also live very differently within that lifestyle. What’s funny is that we both envy the other one a bit.  Here’s what I have that I bet she doesn’t envy. 

Strange Town 

Being on the road constantly means that you’re always in a new town.  We have to rely on Google Maps to get everywhere, which is super annoying because Google’s sending us down unnecessary shortcuts, and we’re often struggling just to find our way to the danged grocery store. 

The towns we hit are generally small, rural towns, so we’re often the only ones wearing masks.  Seriously, if you’re stressed out finding yourself somewhere where no one else is wearing a mask, imagine that everywhere you go is like that.  When I run into a restaurant to grab take-out while we’re on the road. In the grocery store. In the laundromat. I’m the odd man out, and sometimes I get the hairy eyeball for it, too. 

Every grocery store is different.  We have to go down every aisle, even if we need only a few things, because we have no idea where anything is or even if this store has anything we’re looking for. Spoiler: rural grocery stores do not carry coconut water.  Or tofu. And, again, people don’t wear masks. 

Strange Faces

What also grinds me down is that I never see a familiar face.  Well, not never, but sometimes a month goes by between being in towns with a friend in it. We don’t see the same neighbors casually, we don’t see the same wait staff at the same brewery, we don’t see familiar faces at the grocery store.  There’s no casual banter that connects you to humanity.  

And yes, sometimes we meet very friendly, interesting people in the campground, which is wonderful.  But most of the time, we’re either out in the wild with not a single soul around (which also is wonderful) or we’re in a campground with strangers who are not so friendly or interesting.  

Frankly, the campground we’re in right now, south of Missoula, Montana, is a strange place.  There are RVs here, but we don’t see people outside them much.  What are they all doing here?  There’s no lake for fishing; there are trails, but I don’t see anyone on them. 

What people do do is drive around and around the campground, oddly.  This is not a dog parade or a child-on-wheels parade, this is people driving.  One guy in a low-riding, loud muffler car.  Another in a truck, who drives by like five times an hour, no exaggeration.  

And they stare at us.  I don’t know if it’s the Texas plates or the Airstream, but we stick out, apparently.  Lots of people have kayaks and bikes; maybe it’s because Tracy’s kayak is so long (no innuendo intended). There are also tons of Airstreams on the road around here, probably going to and from Glacier National Park, but we’re the only one in this campground.  Maybe it’s all of the above that make us sore thumbs.  

And then there are the flags.  I have a blog post in my draft folder from more than a year ago with photos of flags people have up at their campsite, but I can’t bring myself to give these images attention.  Let’s say that we feel outnumbered. Our Grateful Dead license plate (that’s partly hidden behind the bikes on the truck bike rack) implies, “We come in peace,” but it also implies other things that maybe we should not advertise. 

Strange Nights

It’s nighttime when I feel this strangeness the most acutely.  That’s on me since I don’t sleep well, which makes the nighttime Deep and Dark.  

If we’re out in the wild, then we can leave the window shades open, which I like very much because I can see the moon and the trees.  But if I’m going to walk around the trailer with the lights on, I also feel exposed.

If we’re in a campground, we shut everything up and are snug in our little cocoon. But strangers are right out there.  Sometimes they come and go late at night or early in the morning, and sometimes there are thefts in campgrounds.  At least according to the RV newsletter we subscribe to, most people carry a gun in their RV.  This does not comfort me. We certainly do not. 

So, Sherri, if you’re reading this, enjoy the familiarity that having a home base affords you! I envy that, just as you envy our constant explorations.  

The Antidote

Yesterday we went yet again into downtown Missoula, me trying to find my mojo.  Free Cycles is a cool place and reminded me of the goodness of Missoula, but it’s not a familiar place.  

What is familiar is outdoor live music, and that’s what we found. I’ll save details of this music festival for its own post, but I want to end this one on a positive note, because I did get my mojo back.  

Riding our bikes through backstreets to get downtown felt familiar, all those times Tracy and I rode through town to grab a beer or hear a band in Frederick, Maryland. Those two years I rode my bike in Missoula as my only transportation. 

Seeing a huge variety of people downtown, all so happy to be outside and enjoying live music. Sharing a vibe of massive relief.  Bonus: many wear masks here even outside, which makes me feel safe, even though I don’t wear a mask outside.  We just parked ourselves on the edge of the festival, away from the crowd, and enjoyed our own space.

Sharing smiles with strangers.  This is what sealed the mojo deal for me.  I’d forgotten that if I’m smiling, people smile back at me!  So much so that I asked Tracy if I had a smear of grease on my forehead or something.  But no, like in old times, I am an obviously happy, approachable, non-threatening person who gets a lot of stranger smiles.  I like that.  

I even pulled an old move of mine: I approached a total stranger (duh, the theme here) and chatted him up.  He looked so much like someone I knew when I lived here, but he couldn’t have been because that was 30 years ago, and he looked like that guy looked like then.  But I couldn’t help sneaking glances at him, trying to age him like missing children’s photos.  I just had to walk over and tell him that, since he and I seemed to both be in the same grand mood, and he was happy to have that conversation with me.  Fist bumping ensued.  

The photos here are from our bike ride back to the truck, then the truck ride back to the campground.  The sunset behind the clouds echoed my grand feelings of new beginnings.  

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