Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico
You don’t need to read many of my blog entries to know that I love living in my 17-foot travel trailer with my two canine pals. I love everything about my new lifestyle! I’m not envious in the least of the big and beautiful motorhomes that I see in campgrounds, nor the permanent homes in towns or the countryside. I’m happy, enjoying each day, and grateful for what I have.
Today I’m reminded how fortunate I am.
The crew and I usually take a very long walk every morning, lasting about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Later, around noontime, after the crew has napped, we go for a shorter walk around the campground.
Well, we’re on our after-lunch walk. It’s a bit nippy out and windy. I have on my winter coat. We come upon a campsite with only a car in it. In one glance I notice a woman in her fifties or sixties sitting in the driver’s seat. An electric cord runs from her car window to the electrical post. The car is full of stuff, up to the ceiling in the back seat, and a few garbage bags of stuff are on her picnic table. I see this in only a glance. I turn my eyes away. I don’t want to stare. My God, is she living in her car?
There’s a world of difference between fulltiming and “living in your car.”
Some people choose to live a vagabond life. Some convert a van or even a car into a home on wheels. They use a lot of creativity and inventiveness to equip their vehicle for living “on the road.” They are well-prepared for new places and day-to-day challenges.
Sometimes people do this because they’re sick of the rat race or have lost the ability to cope with it, and want the freedom to live each day in their own way. They want to go where they want whenever they want. Their income may be very small so they compensate with thrift, resourcefulness and a can-do attitude.
To these folks I say, “Good for you! Live your life the way you want!”
However, it’s obvious this lady is not “fulltiming.”
The crew and I take our after-supper walk around the campground. Instead of walking on the campground road, for a change we take part of Luchini Trail. It goes behind the campsites. I’m not thinking about the lady in the car until I see something that shocks me into her reality. There’s no back window in the car! All across the back of the car is a piece of plastic where the window once was. How is she going to keep warm tonight? It’s 60 degrees now, and it’ll be down to 37-38 degrees tonight, and windy! There isn’t even room to lie down!
I wish I could help her.
Now that Bridget and Spike are aware that I can send light beams out from my head, they — mostly Spike — insist on taking me on an after-dark walk around the campground. Again, guys? Okay. Let me get my caplight. It’s about six o’clock. The lady’s campsite is dark. I imagine her sitting in her drafty car with a little heater for warmth.
I can’t get her out of my mind. Does she have a destination, the house of a family member or friend? Is she running away from someone or something? I pray to God she doesn’t have to live like this. My heart breaks thinking of her in that old car, while I’m inside my comfortable and cozy home.
There but for the grace of God . . . .
The photos in today’s post show how the desert looks in the light of a cold and cloudy November morning. When the crew and I walked up to the lake road this morning, we found soft and subtle colors and shapes all around. The desert is beautiful. I’m glad we’re here.
Sue, your description of the woman in the car and how she made you feel triggered empathy in a big way. I imagine you didn’t let the opportunity to ‘check on her’ pass you by if you felt safe doing so.
It’s a situation where she has to make herself available for help. Maybe she’d rather be left alone. Maybe she’d rather be cold and still have her pride. It’s difficult to know.
Whenever I struggle with how to deal with something like this, I mentally climb into the other person’s shoes and that informs my decision.
That’s probably why I hesitate to bother her. I would be mortified if someone knocked on my door and asked if I needed anything.
sometimes just a kind word can make the world of difference to a person.People in
that situation are sometimes very depressed and feel all alone,so a smile and kind words go a long way. I know many a time in my life a kind word from someone would have made
been so welcome.
Recipe was a winner. I made enough to freeze 2 more dinners. Thank your friend Kathy if they are still there.
I hear you about that poor women. I wonder if she even has anything to eat. Life can be so hard on some.
I’m glad the recipe worked for you. I tried it in a crockpot and it wasn’t as good. The green chilies lost their zip.
If I have a chance to talk to the lady in the car tomorrow, I certainly will. Yeah, a lot of people are going through hard times these days.
You wild and crazy RV women need to stick together; so just say ” Hello, how are you doing” and take it from there?
I wish it could be that natural and casual. I would have had to knock on her window. Just the very act of doing that is intrusive.
Perhaps that lady is very thankful that she has a car, and a way to keep her few items safe and dry… She may be enroute from a bad place to a very good place? She is better off than someone walking or carrying their stuff in a shopping cart… She may be thanking God for the blessings of having a car that runs, enough money for gas to get where she is going, and the campground fees to pay to get electric heat at night on her route? I think if I had a spare $20 or a gift gas card, I might offer it, saying I am paying it forward from a time when I was in a tough spot… Along with maybe a hot cup of coffee and a muffin? I dont have much, but its nice to share, even if she isnt asking…..
Karen and Steve,
I was hoping an opportunity would present itself . . . a chance to say hello and get to know her situation. Yes, maybe she’s grateful for what she has and is on her way to meet someone. That’s what I told myself. Then I saw the back window all smashed out and it spelled desperation. You have to be careful in these situations. How you offer to help can be good or it can be hurtful.
You’re right Sue, caution is best in a situation like this. If she was out of her car and approachable it might be different. I know I would struggle with what to do in a situation like this. We once ran across a fella in a wooded urban area, near a Wal-Mart. Felt we should offer him something and tried to give him $20, He very graciously refused saying he had all he needed. Then he opened his coat and showed us the rotisserie chicken he had purchased at the Wal-Mart. “See,” he said proudly, “I have almost a whole chicken left and I’m keeping it nice and warm.” I wish he would have accepted our small offering but he would not. I think that we bothered to stop and talk to him meant more than anything else. You’ll know what to do if/when the opportunity presents itself. Yes, we should all count our blessings everyday.
I appreciate your thoughts on this situation. Wouldn’t it be great if tomorrow I see a camper in her campsite, that she was waiting for someone to arrive? Gee, I hope so.
Thanks Sue for reminding us to count our blessings. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to offer her some encouragement and a kind word. I agree that it would be wonderful to find she was meeting someone. As you said, there but for the grace of God…applies to all of us.
I didn’t want to write a sad post. I couldn’t get her out of my mind, so I had to write about her or not write at all.
This is why I read your blog.
You possess the gift of the real.
These are not just stories.
This is life, the beauty of your pictures,
The humanity of your words.
How lovely, Cynthia. Thank you.
We had almost the exact situation once! The woman camping across from us was in her 60s and appeared to be living in her car. At the end of the camping weekend, when she was leaving she came over and offered us her firewood, and we got chatting. She worked retail to suppliment her social security and always took a loooong vacation every year to visit different parts of the country and relatives. She had a tent but said if it’s cold she just sleeps in her car. She was from Florida. I know it’s not hardly possible that this is the same person, but there are people out there like her, and maybe you stumbled across one. We we happy to learn that day that in her case things were not what they seemed 🙂
You’re right. We sometimes make assumptions based on our own guidelines for living. To twist an old saying, “One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling.”
Sympathy is tricky. It involves a lot of assumptions. For both of you.
Is she stranded? Is she living in that site, and working or looking for work in town? Does she need gas to get where she is “going”? Is she broken down? Does she need a meal? And how far does your sympathy extend? Do you want her to be banging on your door day and night?
Are you familiar with the saying “No good deed goes unpunished”?
I generally don’t go around trying to pet stray dogs. You might draw back a nub. On the other hand, what’s the use of having a hand if you never stick it out there? What would grab me by the heart would be a couple of grimy kids sticking their feral heads up out of the back seat. I’ve seen that more than once.
I’d say you can’t help people until you know what they need. And what you think they need may not be what they think they need. You can’t find any of that out without a conversation. So just take your walk bravely, and don’t be intimidated by your own sympathy. Don’t stare, but don’t avert your eyes either. If she makes eye contact, be friendly. Treat her like anyone else. The dogs will help. You may find there’s something you can do that’s within your means. Or you could just leave her be.
If she’s not staggering around with a medical condition, or drunk, the situation may not be as bad as you think. Or you could make it worse.
Sympathy is tricky.
You put into words exactly what I was thinking. I almost used the word “tricky.” It’s a delicate situation only if I interfere. That’s why I didn’t presume she wants any help, even though I want to help her. Maybe she doesn’t feel she needs help.
The Lady Car camper might also be simply a homeless person . Just trying to survive. My wife’s son lived “on the street” at his lowest point and often lived in a car at times.
You might try a simple wave and “HI” and see if she continues the conversation. Some of them don’t wish human contact, that’s why they are out of the main stream. Hate to say it, but if a conversation starts up, be careful about inviting her into your house.
Hate to sound callous but you got to be careful.
Hello, Old Texan!
You aren’t callous. I appreciate the warning.
The crew and I are in from our morning walk. The lady is gone, but I think she’ll be back because the plastic for her back window and the garbage bags of stuff are on the picnic table. If the opportunity to be friendly arises, I will be.
Are they park attendants there? Someone in charge? Maybe they could help.
The lady only stayed one night. She left this morning. May she have safe travels.
Do you suppose she had any contact with anyone when she registered? Or, is it self-registration? I encountered a similar situation on my way home last month. I didn’t quite know how to handle it either until I met her in the restrooms/showers. She wasn’t into “visiting” much but she indicated this was her lifestyle now – living out of her car and putting up a small tent – and said life was much better now living with less. (Seems I’ve heard that somewhere before!) She didn’t have any family and would work at odd jobs here and there to supplement her SS benefits. I saw, maybe three or four women traveling/staying in their vehicles in the two summers I worked at an RV park. Interesting subject to write about with some very real feelings.
I walked by her campsite this morning with the crew. We exchanged hellos. She was busy repacking her things. It’s funny how situations don’t look so bad on a sunny, warm morning, as opposed to the cold and dreary yesterday. I bet the window busted out because she tried to pack too many things in the back of the car.
I am a woman in my 70’s… i camp in my car because I dont want to be bothered with all the complications of an rv….i camped at Elephant Butte 3 weeks ago….maybe under that same tree ! I paid 8 dollars….the bathrooms were locked except for the pit toilet by the playground, and the showers were cold water only and locked….If you dont pay for the entire package, you dont get much….i went north to Santa Fe…..Prettier and more welcoming….( and more expensive )…There are us women out there with money enuf who want to travel but don’t want all the hassle of pulling our house behind us….I sleep in my car, shower in camp grounds, and have traveled from Key West to Alaska… i am not poor or needy….just simple….Love your blog however…Keep it up….
I’ve been hoping someone would write who can relate their own experience about camping in their car. When you were at Elephant Butte, I’m guessing you were up near what I call the lake road (the road with great views of the lake). I’m in Quail Run Campground.
I hope I did justice to you and others who choose to live in a car or van to travel. It takes a lot of resourcefulness and a can-do spirit which you obviously have in great measure . . . Key West to Alaska . . .You really do go, girl!
Thanks for the compliment and for sharing a different perspective!
Situations like this are very hard to pass up sometimes, especially for women who are kind-
hearted, but you must remember you are out in the middle of nowhere, by yourself and you DON’T KNOW the other woman at all.. A car without a back window can mean someone tried to harm her or she did it herself to get in the car!! Women are not all helpless victims.. I think I would try to talk to the workampers, who have probably already checked on her condition, just to let them know that you’re concerned about her.. Again, she may have come in without paying and the workampers made her leave.. But your caring blog today shows what kind of person you are… YOU JUST MUST BE CAREFUL OF YOUR OWN SAFETY!!!!!May God bless your soul..
Sue-Goodheart! Too funny!
I feel better about the lady today. She did not seem helpless or destitute in the light of day. I happened to walk by her site as she was busy repacking her things. I regret not having a conversation with her. She’s probably a very interesting, independent soul. I admire women who step out on their own, drawing a life “outside the lines.”
Thanks for your concern about me, Butterbean. You stay safe, too.
I am coming in rather late on this, so most advice that could be given, has been given. Several times in my life I have crossed paths with someone who needed help. I did what I could and a couple of times more than I should and the results were not what I would have hoped. I got burned bad a couple of times! But there have been so many people who have helped me when I needed it, that I still believe what goes around comes around. I can’t help it, I will always have that soft spot but I hope I just have learned to be a bit more cautious before I offer help the next time! I am such a sucker! 😦
Hey, Chuck …
You’ve got a good heart. Nothing wrong with that!
oooops! this wasn’t from Chuck… but Geri. My computer is in the shop! Sorry!
I still think you’ve got a good heart, Chuck!
Hi Sue, after working with railroad transits for 30 yrs I have learned they are mostly there doing their thing as you (we) are. Railroad “tramps” will travel by rail when it suits them and other times by old vehicles, that is where their term “rubbertramping” has its roots. Traveling by autos rather than rail. Its really ok to talk to her. Jack
I would’ve liked to talk with her, but it didn’t look like she wanted conversation. I hope she is traveling by choice.
Sue, I have read the last 6 months of your life in about a week. You are an inspiration. While I am been to counties around the world, I believe that North America has more to offer than I will ever have time to see. I want to go back to those places my parents dragged me to in my youth and appreciate them as an adult. I remember pouting in the back seat of our Buick station wagon while the rest of the family got out and admired Monument Valley. I was mad I didn’t get a window seat. Well, my plans are about 15 years out for retirement, but I can’t wait. Please keep sharing your great adventure. What a wonderful life!!!!!!
Thank you for taking the time to read all my blog entries. I hope you continue to enjoy reading what I write. I enjoyed the story of you being pouty in the back seat of the station wagon!
I’m no more special than you are . . . I’m living my life the way I want to, and it sounds like that’s what you’re going to do. Good luck!
It isn’t for everyone, but for me, this way of life IS wonderful!
She would weight heavily on my mind and I would also want to help her. That is what I do when I see a stray cat that I must rescue. I wonder if she is someone’s mother. That makes me sad. I remember years ago you shared your dream with me. I am happy for you Susan. I wish I could be as brave. I would be very scared.
A dream for one person is a nightmare for someone else. Maybe that’s the case with the lady in the car . . . someone doing what she wants to do.
Find a dream and go for it . . . I bet yours would be impossible for me, just as mine is impossible for you.