This is my first free-form Scampabout. No campsite reservations, no set schedule. Hell, I’ve barely even checked to see if there’s gas in the car. Before I left I knew I’d head to Arizona, for warmth and more of that desert gorgeousness I can’t get enough of. Other than that, no idea. But when I looked at a map and saw Old Route 666 snaking south and ending just east of Bisbee, it clicked. Follow the Devil Road to the Mexican border. Awesome.
I got a late start Monday morning and headed for Gallup, a shortish driving day, which would put me close to the head of 666 (now Highway 191) in Arizona. I’d planned to stay at a Walmart not because I wanted to – Walmart is the cold shower of shopping experiences – but mostly because I’d never done it before.
I seem to spend a huge chunk of my life doing things I’ve never done before, so I’ve gotten used to that twinge of anxiety at the new. I wonder: what’s it like to sleep in a Walmart parking lot? Would they kick me out in the morning before I’d had coffee? Would I be forced to wear a blue vest and corral shopping carts as payment?
My anxiety disappeared when I saw a Pilot about 20 miles east of Gallup. I was pretty sure I couldn’t top my Flying J experience, but this would be similar, and therefore, comfortable. I stopped there instead.
They didn’t have a designated RV area, so I talked to the cashier about overnight parking and he asked how long my trailer was. I told him. He snorted, nicely, at Sadie’s petite stature and said, Sure, park over in the side lot. It was empty other than one car in the middle with its hood up, and a few people standing around it. They didn’t seem like trouble, so I parked away from them on the curb and settled in for the night.
I haven’t done much boondocking – I’ve mostly stayed in campsites with power/water – so I hadn’t figured out how to run my fridge off propane. I tried it twice before and couldn’t get it going, which I was fairly sure was user error, since I’m possibly the least mechanically inclined person on the planet.
But I learned a lesson that night. It’s not about mechanical skill, it’s about reading comprehension. Turns out – wait for it – that if you read the directions beyond step two, it in fact tells you how to successfully run it off propane. Genius!
For the record, I have a good excuse for not ever reading past step two. The directions are pasted inside the compartment where you turn on the fridge, and there’s a small tube you have to move to read the rest. Internet, that was simply too much work for this weary Scamper to handle, but Monday night I mustered the strength and persevered. I’d never been happier than when I knew I’d have cold almond milk for my granola in the morning.
So there I was, crouched down by the fridge controls, having this revelation about the instructions, when suddenly a young woman was standing next to me.
I jumped. “You scared the shit out of me!”
No hello, no sorry, just a monotone run-on spiel: “Can you help me my baby’s crying at home and I don’t have money for gas.” Pause.
I eyed the group of people waiting for her at the car and thought about her baby. Mostly I thought, Wow, that’s one hell of a baby monitor she’s got.
When I told this story to my new-friend-I-already-can’t-live-without, he suggested the baby was texting her. That must have been it.
“Mom!!!! Where R U? M crying!!!”
I told her I couldn’t help her. She shrugged, walked back to the car, and drove off with her friends, apparently with enough gas to exit the Pilot parking lot and hopefully get home to that crying baby. Or at least a mark who might actually fall for it and give them some cash.
Since Sadie’s gone solar I charge the laptop inside, so all I really need a truck stop for is the bathroom. I filled my pockets with toothbrush, toothpaste, face soap, and lotion, and headed in. Over the intercom a woman’s voice said, “Professional drivers, there is no waiting for a shower. Please see a cashier.”
I came out of the bathroom and had to duck under a chain with a sign saying it was being cleaned. A man shooting pool in the game room outside said, “We tried to lock you in!” He seemed harmless, so I laughed with him.
I stopped to admire a shelf of pre-packaged fireworks sets. The jumbo was $34.99 and loaded with different sizes of brightly colored explosives. I was seriously tempted to buy one – the souvenir that keeps on giving! – but didn’t because a) it was thirty-five bucks, and b) I have a questionable history with fireworks. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I thought I caught an apartment building on fire in San Francisco.)
Settling in for the night, the white noise of big rigs idling nearby lulled me to mellow. My closest neighbor was Blue Mt. Meats from Monticello, UT, and the low pulsing vibration from all those engines felt like Magic Fingers on the lowest setting. Which, when you’re sleeping alone in a truck stop parking lot, is almost like having a date.
Then you wake up and most of the rigs are gone – no more Magic Fingers, no more white noise. The smell of diesel hangs thick in the air, and it all feels a little lonely.
But not too much. Like last time at the Flying J, I woke to a new vehicle next to me, though this time it didn’t involve prisoners. In a giant and mostly empty parking lot, an SUV had parked just three feet behind me. Seeking vehicle body heat for a cold night? Or was the Toyota making a move on Sadie by getting close enough to cuddle?
I knew Sadie could fend for herself. In honor of my new and improved on-the-road fitness plan, I did two brisk laps around the Pilot parking lot. Instead of an hour it was only a half, and yoga didn’t happen because I wouldn’t put my mat down on the oily asphalt. (I might be shameless, but even I’m not going to unroll my mat on the cleaner concrete in the front of the store and do sun salutations there. I have limits.)
Oh, and I didn’t floss either. Don’t judge.
By the time I got done with all that, the amorous SUV was gone and I was ready to go, too. I had no idea where I’d sleep that night, I only knew I’d be driving the Devil Road. And that was enough.