Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rescuing The Beast -- and Revisiting its History

Today I was planning on writing about the evolution of a logo — the World Piece logo, which turned out so beautifully thanks to a certain artist friend who you’ve previously read about on this blog. But the day didn’t go exactly as I had planned. And thus, instead of the logo, I can’t stop thinking about the evolution of my RV, affectionately known as The Beast.

My parents drove me to Pasadena this afternoon to pick up the RV — more like rescue it — from a distant and dismal parking lot where it has been sitting, neglected, abandoned, since I arrived in LA in late November.

When I left it there five months ago, I had parked it wedged awkwardly and tightly in between a rusty Jeep Cherokee with a broken windshield and four flat tires and a semi truck—just the tractor part—which was shiny and new-looking with no apparent reason to be unused. I never felt good about leaving it there. But at 50 bucks a month for RV parking in SoCal, well, I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere, not even close. And believe me, I looked.
I wasn't exaggerating when I said it was wedged in there.

When I arrived in LA this past November, I had been anxious to get away from The Beast. After driving it from Iowa to Dallas, towing my car behind it for the first time, my nerves were shot. It’s one thing to drive a 24-foot RV, but to add another 10 feet with your precious little Mini Cooper bouncing around behind? No, that was too much for me. I marvel at those giant bus-type RVs that tow big SUVs behind, driven by senior citizens, no less. How do they manage?!

With my stress already running high from the drive, no sooner did I arrive in Dallas, Daisy was killed in a coyote attack and Jack was wounded. No way was I going to stay there so I had to hook up the Mini to the back of the RV again. This time I enlisted a friend to drive for me. I sat in the back during the 3-day trip west, keeping a protective eye on the Mini, holding vigil over a swollen and bandaged Jack, crying about Daisy, and playing endless games of Solitaire to keep my nerves from breaking down completely.

By the time we got to LA I had sworn that no only was I never going to drive the RV again; I was going to sell it. Forget the emotional ties and its rich history, that the RV was Marcus’s dream, that it symbolized me facing my fears after he died. I was done with it. After putting 40,000 miles on it, I had reached my limit.

Not only had my nerves been tested, so had my budget. Not only was the cost of gas sucking funds out of my bank account (8 miles per gallon, you do the math), the list of things needing repair was growing, along with the leak in the roof that no amount of caulking could stop.

Once in LA, I cleaned out the RV, emptying it of every single personal item and gave it a deep scrub. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and taped it in the window. I posted an ad on Craigslist. I announced it on Facebook. But there were no takers. Not even one nibble from Craigslist. So it has just stayed in Pasadena, alone, all winter.

Until today.

"There she is. Miss America." The Beast looks like a
beauty queen next to all the other vehicles.
When we arrived at the parking lot I spotted it right away. The “Pie Across the Nation” decals made The Beast stand out like a sophisticated beauty among the derelict cars and trucks. My heart ached a little, my guilt flared. Why had I been so anxious to be rid of this sweet house on wheels? It had carried me far, and safely. It was an important part of my life.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. It started on the first try. I could hear my dad outside. “Good job, Boo!” he cheered. Besides my mom and dad, there were a few other people in the lot so I had extra eyes to help direct me out of the tight parking spot.

Once I was on the highway, the anticipation I had been feeling on the way to Pasadena dissipated. I haven’t driven the RV for five months. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving it again. Especially through downtown LA traffic. Ah, but just like that very first time I drove it five years ago in Oregon, all those imagined fears vanished the minute I started moving.

The fears vanished and the memories flooded in. As I drove The Beast back to my guesthouse in Palos Verdes, I had a full hour to reflect on its chronology. As you will see, emotional ties and rich history might be an understatement.

The History of The Beast

2008

Celebrating the new purchase with Champagne.
May of 2008, Marcus bought the RV from a coworker in Portland, Oregon, thus taking a step toward fulfilling his “European dream” of touring America’s national parks. A job transfer to Mexico didn't stop him.

That June he drove the RV to his new job post in Saltillo, Mexico, towing his BMW motorcycle behind in a Wells Cargo trailer. (His nerves for this sort of thing were way stronger than mine.) I followed in my VW Beetle.
Marcus, the brave road warrior, proud of his big rig.
In front of our house in Portland.
The roads in Mexico are not exactly “smooth” so we didn’t take the road-trip adventures we had planned. Though we did have one wonderful, memorable weekend driving The Beast to Real de Catorce. We couldn’t drive through the tunnel into the mountain town, so we slept in the RV outside of town and took a taxi into the village. And we got a flat tire on the way back. After that the RV sat in front of our house on the pecan farm.

We didn’t know it but there was a leak in the roof…
Happy Campers.
Marcus and Daisy in Del Rio, Texas (Lake Amistad).
By November of 2008, I took a job in LA and Marcus accompanied me up to the Mexican border in the RV (pic above). We camped at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas. We had just *adopted Daisy and I was taking her with me to the US. (*Adopted as in rescued the homeless, worm- and lice-infested dog directly off the streets.) We had a fun weekend with the newly formed “Team Terrier,” swimming in the lake, BBQing, and making lattes in the RV. That was the moment I was irreversibly hooked on RV camping.

Over Christmas, Marcus drove the RV from Mexico to LA bringing some furniture for me to use in the studio apartment I rented.
Team Terrier on the step of the RV.

2009 


In May of 2009, Marcus’s Mexican stint ended and he was transferred to Germany. He packed the trailer with our furniture and drove the RV back to Portland, stopping to spend several days with me in LA on the way. He started shopping around for a trade-in with the RV, wanting a smaller, newer one, the kind built on a Sprinter van chassis. Even though he was moving back to Germany he wanted to keep an RV in the US and keep his dream alive. I supported him in his dream. Before he left for Germany, he left the RV with a small dealer outside of Portland where The Beast was for sale on consignment. Marcus died in August. The Beast stayed at that dealer’s lot until I picked it up a few months later.

In the fall I loaned the RV to some German friends who took it to the Oregon coast.

In December, I drove it for the first time — all the way to Los Angeles. It was so much easier to drive than I ever expected. I actually liked driving it, which made me feel VERY guilty because I had growled to Marcus that I would never, ever drive it. (You can read all about this story in my memoir, Making Piece.)
Driving to Arizona, Dec. 2009. No wonder I was afraid to drive the RV!
You never know what dangers lurk out there in the desert.

I spent the Christmas holiday of 2009 in the RV, driving to Arizona through one of the worst windstorms in history. But by god, I held onto the steering wheel and had a safe passage. The news the next day told of countless semis and RVs that had overturned in the wind. But I had prevailed. And though I was visiting friends and family in Arizona I slept in the RV. I loved having the cocoon of it, my own private sanctuary to read and rest, to write in my journal, snuggle with my dogs, and make my lattes in the mornings.

2010


In January, The Beast was used to make a TV pilot (or documentary or web series or whatever, as it has yet to be completed). For two weeks I drove all over California with my producer friend Janice, taping stories about pie. In the RV we hauled boxes of apples to make pie, then we ferried 50 apple pies around LA, handing them out by the slice for free. (Here’s the 2-minute sizzle reel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2GjwZ4--8gM)

I drove the RV round-trip a second time from Portland to LA, this time hauling a motor scooter inside (to use as transportation to get around LA) and drove back with my parents accompanying me one-way. We had to climb over the motor scooter to get around, but that was part of the adventure.

The Beast at Crater Lake National Park with my Swiss friend Eve.
In August of 2010, I moved out of my Portland apartment, put my stuff in storage and headed to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. The RV went on vacation without me, driven by my friend from Switzerland, Eve, and her daughters, who drove down the coast to California. In an ironic (bittersweet) twist, the RV got to stop at Crater Lake National Park, where Marcus and I met in 2001.

Eve left the RV with my brother Mike in Costa Mesa, who used it for surf weekends. And as a scaffolding for painting murals with his non-profit Operation Clean Slate.
Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder. 

2011


The RV spent a whole year with my brother in Southern California. I had promised to bring it to Iowa, but kept putting it off. Until Mike got a warning from the police that it was time to move The Beast, or else.  So in July of 2011 my friend Patti’s husband Terry drove the RV back from the west coast to Iowa. And that’s when The Beast became both a guest room and a privacy fence at the American Gothic House.
RVs make good fences.
I had a boyfriend “H” that fall (alas, short lived with a bad ending). We loaded the RV with Team Terrier, plus his dog (a chow) and his guinea pig (not kidding), and drove the RV to South Dakota. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands — and ate donuts at Wall Drug. Marcus had bought the RV to visit the national parks. I could never have imagined I would be carrying on his dream without him. And with someone else.

2012

My book, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” came out April 1, 2012. Given that the RV featured prominently in my story, it was fitting that the RV be used for a book tour. So The Beast got outfitted with some nifty pie decals, fueled up with gas, and Team Terrier and I set off cross-country on a six-week tour.
Before
After
Iowa City, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Orlando, Austin, Jefferson (TX) — the tour was so grueling I ended up in the ER with tendonitis in my neck. No fault of the RV; traveling with my own down-filled bed in the back of the RV made the trip really comfortable. The neck problem came from the red-eye flight I took from San Diego to Orlando mid-tour.

Not only did the ER visit set me back six figures, the RV needed new brakes. So while in Seattle, we spent a $1000 day at Les Schwab getting new rotors. Fun times.

The Beast became a kind of celebrity, appearing in many TV news segments and articles. Tourists who came to get pie at the Pitchfork Pie Stand liked to walk around to the back of the house where the RV was parked so they could take pictures of it. Who cares about the American Gothic House when you can pose in front of The Beast!

That June, I spent my 50th birthday in the RV, camping at a nearby rural Iowa lake to have a night of solitude and welcome my new decade quietly.

That July, Kyle Munson, the Des Moines Register columnist, used the RV for his team’s support vehicle during the weeklong bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.

Delivering pie to Newtown.
Pie delivery vehicle (aka The Beast) in background. 
In December 2012, after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the RV served its greatest mission yet. We drove from Iowa to Janice’s house in New Jersey (the same Janice with whom we shot the pie documentary), and rallied 60 volunteers to make 250 homemade apple pies. We then loaded up the RV — and it was REALLY loaded — and drove the pies up to Newtown where we handed out free slices and free pies to bring kindness and comfort to the grieving community. I have never been so grateful for that RV and what it made possible. People wrote me letters later saying how seeing "the Pie Truck" in their town gave them a sense of hope and joy amidst the sorrow.

2013

The RV and I always liked coming home.
Back at the American Gothic House, not only did the RV make an excellent (and well used) guest room — and privacy fence to shield us from the prying eyes of The Binoculars next door—the refrigerator in The Beast also served as overflow storage for my pie stand ingredients.
My dad giving the RV a wash.


In September, I drove the RV to LA — just for a respite after a very demanding summer with the Pitchfork Pie Stand (and another failed attempt at a relationship) —and was planning on staying in LA for a month, maybe two. I fell in love with an artist from Iowa, who lived in Pasadena, and two months turned into six. That’s when I found the $50 parking lot in Pasadena. But at least I was close by and could periodically check on The Beast’s well being.


2014

Book Tour #2! In April, The Beast got a new battery, an oil change, and some updated decals with my new book cover and tour dates. I set off from LA to promote my cookbook "Ms. American Pie" along the way back to Iowa. First to Arizona. Then Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Des Moines, and home to Eldon. This tour was a more manageable three weeks. No ER visits. No breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Just lots of pie. The RV featured prominently in every stop.
A book tour stop in Texas.

Back in Eldon, the RV once again resumed its duties as guest room and privacy fence. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It got a lot of use!

Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.

In September 2014, I moved out of the American Gothic House. Some people were very happy about this. Others, like my pie customers & would-be students, not so much. As for me, I miss the house terribly. But I still had my house on wheels. I moved the RV to a friend’s farm and used it as a guest room for myself until the weather started turning cold. By November I was determined to head south for the winter. The RV and I have that in common: we prefer warm weather. I decided on Dallas. Which we know now was a Very. Bad. Decision. Not knowing where else to go, I hobbled back to LA. Again.

When I first arrived, I camped at Dockweiler Beach State Park. It’s the closest I could legally camp near the beach and still be close to my parents. The park, located directly beneath the LAX flight path, has a three-week limit. Not to mention, it cost $60 a night. But I was in such a down state I could not put a price on my mental health. I stayed the maximum allotted time.

The beach can be very soothing to the soul (when jets are not passing overhead). I spent HOURS lying in that cozy nest of down comforters and pillows in the back of the RV, listening to the ocean waves and petting Jack's belly as I grieved the loss of Daisy.

Exactly six years to the day after Marcus and I camped in Del Rio, Texas in December of 2008 with our newly adopted member of Team Terrier, I had lost both Marcus and Daisy. I still had Jack. And I still had The Beast.

2015

I rented a sweet, quiet, sunny apartment in Palos Verdes. Sadly, the parking situation could not accommodate a 24-foot RV for a long-term stay. After calling around and not finding any RV parking for under $200, I went back to Pasadena to the old lot I had used last year. And that’s where it stayed for five months.

I thought I was done with The Beast. I thought it was time to let it go. Retire it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it. I mean, an RV's lifespan could be measured in dog years. Which would make this 2002 camper the equivalent of 91 years old! But I was so happy to be driving it today. I was so filled with big, life-affirming memories. And instead of feeling like I wanted to be rid of it, I felt the sense of renewed possibility, that with a little TLC—and money—I could tackle some of those repairs, breathe some new life into it, have some new adventures.

Luckily, I don’t have to decide right now. I am buying myself a little more time. The RV will go back to my brother’s in Costa Mesa for the summer while I am traveling around the world. It will have another stint as weekend surfer camper. And I will have the peace of mind in knowing that it is getting good use, having a happy time by the beach, and not sitting abandoned in a distant parking lot.

For the next few days though, I have it parked outside my apartment, where I can wipe off the dust, wash the windows, and appreciate what an incredible history we have shared.


I am already picturing how nice the RV would look with the World Piece logo….

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Planning, Packing and Paring Down: Does It Spark Joy?

I leave on my round-the-world trip one month from today (though it really begins in just 2-½ weeks with my drive to Iowa to drop off my dog Jack at “summer camp.”) I am excited, yes, but I am also bogged down in planning and packing. And neither of those things are the most enjoyable part of the journey to me. Alas, they are part of the journey. And I know that taking the time to prepare and pack right (as in light) will make the journey a better one.

As for planning part, there are a zillion details to work out. Not just the flights and the visas, or the global cell phone calling plan and credit card with no foreign transaction fee, buying an international plug adapter and getting World Piece business cards made. I have added a big fat layer of complexity by adding pie-making classes to the mix. So in addition to all the other stuff I also have to figure out how to get supplies and ingredients for pie classes in 10 different countries.

In spite of having a white board and a 3-ring binder and scratching things off my To-Do list daily, managing the minutiae is still an exercise in stress management. I just keep reminding myself to practice what I preach: “Pie is not about perfection. Pie is about improvising. Pie makes people happy.” I will have time to find the ingredients and supplies when I get there. I will get the rest of the class details ironed out when I hit the ground.

I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.

As for the packing part, I thought I could handle this one without the usual mental wrestling match required in determining what to take and what to leave behind. But packing has its own added layer of complexity. I am moving out of my guesthouse in LA and I want to consolidate my belongings — kind of like “getting your affairs in order.” Not that I think I’m going to die out there on my trip. Nothing that morbid. I just want the peace of mind of knowing all my stuff is in one place.

I have too much to cart back to Iowa in my MINI Cooper. (I traveled out here in the RV, remember? And I had it fully packed.) I can’t store anything in the RV as I had originally planned because my brother is going to use it this summer. (Yes, The Beast is still alive and well! Thanks for asking.) Besides, keeping my stuff in the RV means having stuff in two different parts of the country.

So…I’m trying to pare down. Again. (It seems this is a constant battle as I took at least 10 trips to Goodwill when I moved out of the American Gothic House in September.)

As I tackled my closet and drawers today, trying to sort what to pack, what to take with me to Iowa (to my storage unit there), and what to throw, it didn’t take long for the effort to end in exasperation—and swear words.

F**k this! I already have enough *&%#$* decisions to make!

Why do I always have to complicate things?! I promised myself I would make this journey as easy on myself as possible. Adding this “Must Pare Down” task to the already-long list is only adding pressure.

There’s more to the story though. (There always is, isn’t there?)

First, my mom took me shopping two weeks ago. She’s as excited about my trip as I am. To her thinking, a new adventure needs a new wardrobe. To my thinking, the ONLY thing I needed was a new purse. A big lightweight one with a strap long enough to carry it diagonally across my body (to keep it secure), and a zipper to make sure nothing falls out (and no stray hands go in.) We went to Marshalls to look for purses and I came out with 2 linen shirts, a dress, a crushable straw hat, a pair of linen pants, and 2 pair of sandals. And no purse. My mom was thrilled with my purchases. I loved the clothes, and they were very affordable, but I didn’t really want new stuff.

“Pare down” is kind of mantra to me, a way of life. I wanted to make do with what I already have. But it made my mom so happy to go shopping with me. And seeing her happy made me happy. It was her way of being part of my journey.

And even more symbolic, shopping with her was a touchstone to my past.

When I was 21, I had saved my money to go to Europe. I had never been there and I had the idea that I would go for a whole year, pick one place to start (by circling my finger on the map and seeing where it landed: Bern, Switzerland), and come back a changed and cosmopolitan young woman. Before I left, my mom took me shopping. (Remember her mantra: New adventures need new wardrobes.) She bought me a jean skirt, a dress, loose cotton pants, a cotton sweater. And a big lightweight purse with a long strap and a zipper closure. I can still picture it vividly. It was gray canvas, the strap was leather, and it had a mesh pocket on the outside. It was made by Esprit. I loved that purse and it had a long, adventurous life.

I had a safe and successful experience in Europe. I spent my 22nd birthday hiking in the Swiss Alps. I studied French in Neuchatel. I worked on a yacht in Cannes (and used that money to go to Thailand for three months.) I ate my way through Italy. I had an audience with the Pope. I skied on the Matterhorn. I shaved my head. I made friends. I came back to the US more grown up and cultured. (And happily my quasi-punk 80s hair do eventually grew out.)

I’ll never forget how my mom supported me and helped me prepare for that journey by taking me shopping.

Now, 30 years later, I am about to embark on another grand global adventure and it doesn't matter if I wanted or needed new clothes. What matters is that I still have my mom and she is still supporting me in my crazy dreams and far-flung travels. Which is why I kept my “pare down” mandate to myself — to eliminate belongings, not add them — and bought the clothes. They filled two shopping bags.

I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom. I am so grateful to have my mom.

The second thing that was complicating my packing ability is that I just read a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Her theory is that by letting go of our excess belongings we live with less stress, process the past, and make room for new life. And that we should only keep things that “spark joy.”

By the author’s definition of paring down, I would be considered a hoarder.

In sorting and packing and weeding out today, I kept thinking of Kondo’s words. “With each item you touch ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’” That’s a loaded question. Each and every item sparks a memory. Of a time. A place. A person. But does the item itself spark joy?

It’s a puzzling concept. So puzzling that instead of answering the question for each item I started making piles. Stuff to take with me around the world. Stuff to pack into my MINI to take to Iowa storage. Stuff to take to Goodwill. Stuff to give to friends or family. But the pile that became the biggest was Stuff I cannot f**king deal with right now. Maybe Kondo's "letting go of excess reduces stress" concept works after the fact, but the process to get there is not as easy as she makes it sound.

Most of the stuff in my undecided pile has something to do with Marcus. Does it spark joy to remember when he bought me that wool skirt in Venice, Italy? Or when he bought me those embroidered jeans in Venice, California? What about the scarf his mother knitted for me? And the gloves with the skull and crossbones logo of the Saint Pauli soccer team in Marcus’ birthplace of Bremen, Germany? What about those?????? Those things used to spark joy. Now they spark a combination of joy and searing heartache. What do I do with that stuff?

Kondo writes, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Ouch. And yet how fitting is that for my round-the-world trip? I say I’m going on this World Piece journey to make pie, to learn about other countries’ pie, and to promote cultural tolerance. But if you dig deeper and probe me with questions, like my friend Meg did over coffee a few days ago, this trip is about letting go of Marcus. And finding me. Finding a way to move forward. 

When I see the things I'm still hanging onto — the clothes especially, some of them Marcus's (I still have the red plaid bathrobe I wrote about in "Making Piece") — I cannot deny my attachment to the past.

I'm going to have to mull this over for a few more days before I can move things from the "Can't decide" pile to the "Goodwill" one. And if they end up in the "Iowa storage" pile, so what? It's my stuff, my memories, my joy, my grief, my timeline for when I'm ready to let go.

I also made a pile of stuff to return to Marshalls. I decided that the clothes I bought when I was with my mom are not the right clothes for me. When I tried on those linen pants today and saw how tight they were across my butt, that definitely did not spark joy. The linen blouses, loose and flowy and good for the tropics, that looked good in the dressing room — with my mother there cheering me on with her approval — now seemed too matronly. Matronly and joy are mutually exclusive. No spark there. But I’m keeping the sandals, because I’ve already worn them. They are like joyful little spark plugs for my feet, very comfortable for walking on any pavement anywhere in the world. And I’m keeping the dress, partly because my mom paid for it. “It’s an early birthday present,” she had insisted. I do love it. It’s a great color for me (dark khaki green), it’s lightweight, it doesn’t wrinkle, and it covers my arms and knees (meaning I will have the respectful attire required when visiting certain places.) I know I will wear it a lot.

I also know that no matter what I pack, what I leave behind, what I give away — and what I  plan (or don’t get planned) for the pie classes — I will be fine. I just need to keep my load light. On this trip, I will carry more strength and grace, and less grief. I will find myself again. The spirit of my 22-year-old self still lives in me somewhere. Hopefully, I will just have a hell of a lot of fun. I have nothing to worry about because making and sharing pie is always fun.

Let the journey begin.



RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE WEBSITE