Friday, December 9, 2016

Illegal immigrants: Hunt 'em, help 'em

Thick with cactus

Organ pipe cactus

The world of illegal immigration is here. In Gila Bend, AZ, where we’ve been for about a week now.
Just south of Gila Bend is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which shares a border with Mexico. 

 I’m inside the visitor’s center  and find signs encouraging me  to protect myself against undocumented people trying to escape poverty  (or maybe dealing drugs) by crossing the border illegally. Keep my bike locked up. Don’t engage. Report.

And that’s what two hikers now inside the visitor’s center are doing. They are reporting a “sighting,” a collection of evidence they believe “is unusual.” They behave very cloak-'n-dagger. They never blurt: "There is an illegal alien in our midst.”

Instead they mention, casually, almost covertly, stumbling upon a cave with disturbed underbrush inside. A stash of water bottles. The aroma of recently a recently cooked meal. With chilies.  A tumbling of rocks, as if something slid down the hill.

The park ranger makes serious note of the report and marks the cave location on a map. She thanks the visitors who leave.

No. 1 Mexican restaurant in Gila Bend, AZ
As I tour the park, I find the Valley of Their Sighting. I look up into the hills. I seek out the cave. And I wonder who hid there.  And I  understand why they sought a hiding place to rest. And needed water. And ate. Organ Pipe sprawls dangerously for about 517 square miles of dense cactus-covered, parched terrain butting up against rocky, unfriendly mountains.

If they made it this far through the desert alive, they must still contend with an attentive border patrol and, apparently, tourists.

It’s not easy. Or safe. To get a slice of my apple pie illegally.

And that’s what I’m thinking as I sit inside Sophia’s, a Mexican restaurant truckers rate No.1 in Gila Bend. At my table is a box, painted white, with black hand-lettering asking for money. Donations. To help people lost in the desert. To provide medical care. Rescue. 

Helping immigrants
It never says the immigrants to be helped are illegal.  But it’s obvious. If the guy who slid down the hill, or hid in the cave or ate the chilies for lunch is sick or injured when found, these people will help. With medical supplies, I’m told, but no visa.

So down here, close to the border, signs ask me to snitch. Signs ask me to help. Welcome to the world of illegal immigration.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Worried about the law in a Nevada ghost town

I see cops.
See us sticking out into the road?
And I immediately think they plan to ticket us for parking out into the road.

Our fifth-wheel is a monster when it comes to parking on downtown city streets. And even though Goldfield, NV., population 204, isn’t a real city, it does have a downtown and we are hogging the street, trying to park to the side so I can walk down the sidewalk and take pictures (some below).

This is a ghost town, even though people still live here. It was born and went bust during the glory days of the gold rush. In its prime, there were more than 30,000 people here. A few left town millionaires. Stories place Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil here.

But today it’s a collection of dusty and rusting artifacts of yesterday. I see art in that dust everywhere. A building covered in road signs. Cars decorated with found items, even other cars. A shadow of a phone-texting man cleverly placed to show him near the shadow of a real stop sign. 

This town is worth so much more than the mere minutes I’ve been here, snapping a few dozen pictures or brokeness-turned-lovely, art out of ashes.  But I’m worried about the cops. So I tun to race back to the fifth-wheel (puffing hard in this 6,000-foot altitude), to get it out of the street.

But I see no cops. They must have moved on. They must be used to tourists like us. Tourists who hog the street and take snapshots of the past.

But, wait. Cops? In a ghost town?
Where do they get the water in a desert?

Clever shadow art.

I could shop here all day.

Less government.
Beetles reign!

Pure art.

Unsafe privatization?

Don’t blink.

You might miss something.

Like we did a few days ago when we let life’s little upheavals distract us from an adventure down a dark trail.

Our fifth-wheel is sick, so we’re headed north from Death Valley into Carson City, NV, for repairs. It’s a six-hour drive up Route 95 through beautiful high-desert landscape cradeled by the Sierra Nevadas.

As we near our RV park, we fail to make much note of the acres and acres of what looks like elongated Hobbit houses (close-up above) dotting the valley floor. Bunkers, we shrug. Hundreds of bunkers. We shrug again and turn in for the night.

We winterize the RV because the nights are freezing and we walk the dog and we ponder the fate of our trailer. While doing this, we fail to notice the munitions warning signs. We are oblivious to the town park’s colorful windmills made from torpedo remnants. We don’t see the submarine missiles displayed on the sidewalks downtown.

We head north in the morning and pass what is clearly a very large yet deserted military installation called Hawthorne Army Depot. So on the way out of town, I Google what I just saw.

Apparently, we just spent the night surrounded by the largest ammunition storage facility in the world. The town itself is only 1.5 square miles, but the depot covers 226 square miles and can store 600,000 square feet of ammunition in those Hobbit houses I saw — more than 2,400 bunkers.

Its history is fantastic — during World War II it employed more than 5,000 people -- (go ahead, Google it for yourself) and its mission frightening (Is the ammunition still there? Are the bunkers empty?).
Curiously, something this important to the safety of this country is not run by the government. 

Imagine that.

The ammunition needed to send this country to war is stored by an independent contractor — Day & Zimmerman Hawthrone Corp., a leading manufacturer of ammunition who  also makes the little silver foil wraps for Hershey kisses (or used to).

Forbes named the company one of the richest privately held companies in the United States, with revenues of $2.5 billion a year. They hold more than 350 government contracts and we pay them more than  $151 million a year to store wartime ammunition.

If we renege on a payment and need a bullet, can they say “No?”

The U.S. Marines used to guard the facility. That job has been outsourced, too. To Day & Zimmerman.

So my gut tells me I’m not the only one who blinked. Everyone in this  country must have blinked when the government decided to hand over the largest ammunition storage facility in the world to one of the richest companies in the United States.

I’m hoping there's a clause in those contracts that puts the facility back under Marine protection and Army control in the event of war. Because if we are attacked, I want the bottom line to be our protection, not a bank account.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A window exposes more than a view

I’m taking a nap inside a very old Alpha fifth wheel that isn’t mine in a trailer park where I do not live.

Except for this week.

I live here, in a rental trailer in a trailer park in Pahrump, NV, because my brand-new, beautiful, georgeous fifth wheel, the one with a fireplace and big screen TV, with a kitchen island and hard wood floors, broke.

Broke. And we can’t use it. We made plans for it to be fixed next week because this week we want to play in Death Valley National Park.

So we rented this trailer In a trailer park, where I am taking a nap. But I can’t sleep because there’s noise outside my window,  I can hear what trailer parks are known for. Unruliness. Men yelling at each other. (A fight?) And cars spinning out on gravel. (A FIGHT?) And I lay here, beginning to question our safety.

But I’m curious. So I peak out the window and I see someone’s car has pooped out. And a bunch of men are pushing the car, which spins again and is freed from whatever was holding it. And the driver drives off. The men high five. Well, some of them do. Then they disappear into their trailers. These men. These kind men. Who extended a helping hand.

While I extended judgement.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Stereotypical day for an RV'er

We’re in Elkhart, Ind., the birthplace of darn near every fifth-wheel, travel trailer and motorhome you see on the road today.

And with that distinction comes a well-honed, stereotypical image of an RV-enthusisast: a graying, sneaker-shoe wearing, binocular-toting Boomer, a bit myopic and cloyingly perky.

Is that us? 

And is that them? The people who birth these homes on wheels? Are they like us?

Unfortunately, we have a chance to find out because a piece of our fifth-wheel pooped out. Just clanged into inoperability. And we need it fixed. So we head to its mother womb, a company called Open Range in Shipshawana, an Amish-filled town on the Elkhart outskirts.

 I see a single-story, long building that resembles an old-fashioned motel, only spiffed up a bit. Inside, we crowd into a tiny RV-sized waiting room, where a man is engaged in a lively phone conversation. His back is to us, so we see his lovely blond pony tail trailing darn near to his waist.

Soon, a man wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans, sporting a Duck Dynasty beard and wooden earrings pops in and offers to help. He has more tattoos than a tattoo parlor advertises. Nothing’s on his face, which must be all of 30 years old. He listens to us and slips back into the Open Range belly to fetch Jennifer. She’s all of 30, wears a flowered headband and skinny jeans, a barely-there T-shirt and the cutest little slippers she says she bought at Walmart.

The two diagnose our problem, hand us the parts we need to make repairs and wave farewell.

Wish I had thought to take their picture.

 Because, clearly,  they are the antithesis of the RV stereotype. And we aren’t.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Avoiding Toledo, technology free

My granddaughter Grayce loves maps. They way they look. The places they delineate.

I’m thinking about her and her passion as I panic because I need a map. We’re barreling toward Toledo and I do NOT want to spill onto the city streets to do battle with tiny turns and tree branches.  We’re towing a 38-foot fifth wheel that's about 13.5 feet high. 

I want to avoid Toledo.

But I don't know how. And my phone’s map app is crashing and my GPS is a pathetic bully. Technology fails me today.

So I reach under the back seat and grab my Rand McNally — an oversized coverless compendium of places we’ve been and places we want to be. I flip to Ohio and within seconds I’ve navigated us out of Toledo’s grasp and into the arms of Route 20.

 Where we stay for hours and hours. Watching corn grow. And cows graze.  Enjoying scrubbed up old towns, palms up for a tourist's dime. We see wafting clouds of starlings and hawks chasing their prey.  And classic barns, grain elevators, Mom-and-Pop stores, aging trucks for sale in varying degrees of decay. I love the white-steepeled churches with congregations of graves just outside.

Yes. Yes. Had I used the technology to get from here to there I would be there already and I’m not. I’m sitting in a Wal-Mart parking lot somewhere in Indiana instead of Illinois, listening to a train passing by. And my Rand McNally is nearby. It’s my new best friend. 

My granddaughter loves maps.

So do I.