On our way to the laundromat in Niland, I stop at Ken’s.
“Is there anything you need in town? I’m going to the laundromat,” I ask as he approaches the PTV.
“No, thanks. I’m all set.” We talk for a while.
“Well, I’d better get going. Talk to you later, Ken.”
“Okay,” he says with a wry smile. “Have a good time down at the laundromat.” He rolls his eyes. “It’s always an interesting experience.”
Next I pull into Solar Mike’s.
He happens to be outside tidying up his yard. Of course, I’m in the PTV without the BLT. I show him the connection at the back bumper that needs a new other half, due to it not holding in transit and dragging on the pavement. I also mention that the cord is not as long as I’d like it to be. One of the benefits of putting the solar panel on the roof of the PTV is supposed to be flexibility in how I angle the PTV for optimum energy from the sun. The present cord is not quite long enough to always be able to do that.
It’s immediately apparent that Solar Mike knows his stuff.
He walks into the trailer and returns with an “Anderson” connector that clicks together. The one I have doesn’t click; it mushes together and doesn’t hold. After a brief discussion, it’s decided that I’ll stop by with both the PTV and BLT on my way out of the Slabs, as he’s on the main road out.
Not surprisingly, the Niland laundromat is as depressing as the town.
Now I know why Ken categorizes people as normal or not normal. Someone will walk by my campsite and Ken will say something like, “That’s so-and-so. He’s a nice guy. He’s normal.” Or “I don’t go over that way. The people over there are definitely not normal.” He’s not being cold-hearted. It’s verbal shorthand.
While waiting for the washers to finish, I hear a lot of “not normal.”
One guy is bending the ear of another about his recent windfall of commodities, as well as his days (as recently as 2005) as a Seal, Special Forces. Okay. You’re seventy years old or so and recently were a Special Forces guy and now you’re hanging out in Niland, California, standing in line for commodities and washing your duds at the laundromat. I try not to listen.
Another guy asks me to watch his clothes.
He wants to go somewhere and he’s afraid someone will steal them while he’s gone. He asks this favor while standing next to a poster for the rape crisis center.
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to confront someone who is bent on taking your clothes, know what I mean?”
Usually I give the crew a walk around while the clothes are in the washers. I don’t see anywhere up and down the street that isn’t ugly with graffiti, boarded up windows, or litter. We skip the walk.
In addition to the “not normal” are the painfully poor.
An elderly Hispanic gentleman washes a pair of pants and a shirt in the sink without soap. It’s not hard to conclude from his appearance that he can’t afford laundry detergent, never mind the washing machines and dryers.
A cloud of depression begins to settle over me, and I hurry out as soon as the clothes are done.
Across the street on the sidewalk by the grocery/liquor store, three guys lounge as if it’s their own personal patio. Oh geez. Enough of this. I’m going back to camp.
On the way back I pass a permanent encampment comprised of a gutted bus and two ancient mobile homes. The “yard” of dirt is littered with junk, scrap metal, and rags. A flash of pink catches my eye. Oh dear God. It’s a girl of five or six running among the trash.
I drive on to the “nice” section.
I park the PTV so the solar panel will tilt toward the sun. Bridget and Spike are happy to jump out. I get out the ladder from the back of the PTV and tilt the panel at a 35 degree angle. I take some photos.
Well, it’s fun talking with Ken and the weather is perfect, but I don’t think we’ll stay here much longer.