Penultimate week

Where: Working at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, with only 9 days to go!

“Hitch itch” Def: the urge to travel, to move, to experience new things, esp. after being stationary for a time; a frustrating feeling that bubbles up during long periods of work and manifests in excessive route planning and possibility gathering; also see: Rayn and JJ right now.

I started out on this mobile life for so many reasons, and a big one is certainly my pure enjoyment of movement.  There’s so dang much to see in this country, and even in every state, that we could probably devote a year to each one and have a plethora of wonderful sights to take in. For the part of the year where we’re moving, we’ve hit on just the right combo: we generally try to choose locations where we can be in one place for about a week, surrounded by options for hiking and beauty.  We have our comfortable house with us wherever we go, and the leisurely pace means that we don’t feel rushed or pressured to do too much and burn out. It’s a perfect life, as far as I’m concerned.

That desire for action and change means that I have a lot of trouble with the periods of time where we need to stay put for work.  The Eastern Sierra never feels that way, because there, we are surrounded by so very many options within a 2 hour drive of our job.  Even after 2 summers there, I have a list of 30 hiking trails we’ve never done, and new places to explore so close to home.  But the past couple months, in Tucson and East Phoenix, have been harder.  Of course, I love the ability to get out in the short days of winter and enjoy the sun, but they just aren’t the areas where I’m happy for months on end.  As the time to get on the road gets closer (9 days, 9 days!) I’m getting more and more perky, and ready for adventure. The current plan includes a sidetrip to get our pesky, problematic leveling system repaired.  The best shop for it is in Las Cruces, NM, so we built it into our meandering loop back to the resort.  The rough trajectory is a few days at an RV park to wash and wax and sanitize our fresh water system, down to Tucson to see Ann and Nathan, over to Las Cruces, and then start heading north and west, probably through the bottom of Utah. There’s so many options, and my head is absolutely filled with delightful possibilities.

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A major reason for this immobile angst is this job.  Although I was told that my job as a kitchen manager would be for only one day, the promised replacement did not show up last weekend, so it was the Rayn show again. And oy vey, what a weekend!  I sent one of my employees home with what I thought was heat exhaustion, but it turned out that he was actually on meth, the other assistant manager quit mid-day, and I had to call the medics when another employee had a seizure.  The icing on the cake was when I picked up my paycheck, and expected to see a raise for accepting these new duties.  Except, I didn’t get one. I don’t care enough about the pay difference for the final 2 weekends to go in and complain about it, but it was really a slap in the face after a grueling couple of days.

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I don’t have much fun to report this week, because it was getting-stuff-done time for us.  JJ is more than halfway finished with his roof recaulking process, and we also started the stocking up process before we spend 6 weeks away from civilization.  Important items that are hard to find in small town America: Soupy’s cat food, Costco coffee, Trader Joe’s chocolate, and thai curry paste, to name a few.  We’re spending more now, but we will be happy campers where we’re faced with “grocery stores” that are really just minimarts with a few tired vegetables and some brown bananas.  You just can’t have both city conveniences and remote locations, which is ok with us.

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Soupy provided a few days of entertainment when she trotted into the RV with an enormous lizard in her mouth.  This thing was seriously huge, and seemed to be quite dead, hanging limp in her mouth.  However, when I screamed a la Janet Leigh in Psycho, the damned thing sprang back into life and ran for its life, lodging itself somewhere up front in the cab. I said a few choice words and immediately headed outside, perfectly happy to let JJ be the man in the situation. He tore the front apart, removing plastic parts where the sucker could be hiding, and even with Soupy’s help (sniffing vigorously), the lizard was nowhere.  “Well,” he said optimistically, “maybe it ran out when I opened the door!”  We didn’t see any sign of it for the next 24 hours, until he opened the driver’s door again and the beast bolted off.  In other words, I slept with a lizard in my house overnight.  EEEEEEK!

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Glorious sunsets this week.

Spring sprang and dang! it’s hot

Where: working at the Arizona Renaissance Festival til 4/2 or until we can’t take the heat

I have an offer for all my Ohio peeps: how about a weather transfer?  The temperatures have been hitting 90 on a regular basis, and at night, only getting down to about 63.  We would be willing to part with 30 degrees and send it your way!  We try to frontload our day and get as much done in the morning as possible, and then the afternoon is for lazing. We perk up again when the sun sets, and only go to bed when we can get in the inside temp under 80.  A bit of relief is in sight next week, with Tuesday onward supposed to be cooler.  We are laughing about the fact that we will be facing snow at the resort in May…our seasons are so reversed!

Our “pool”:

Soupy is not a swimmer, but she enjoys it too:

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I am either a glutton for punishment, or interested in trying new things (and these two things can be awfully similar sometimes!) so I accepted a new position at the RenFest as an assistant kitchen manager.  Last Saturday, the first day of the job, was fine.  I mostly spent my time getting people on 15 minute and lunch breaks, and passing out and collecting lunch vouchers.  I helped with some paperwork and inventory at the end of the day, and all was well with the world.  The next day, the manager got sick and went home, so I was put in charge of the place in her absence.  I’m glad that I’m a curious person who likes to know how systems work, because if I had not paid attention the day before, I would have no idea what I was doing!  Thankfully, I recalled just enough to limp through.  And besides the two employees who got in a fight, and the two customers at our booth who passed out from heat exhaustion, I suppose it was a fairly successful day.  The best news is that they rounded up a new manager, experienced with this fair, and I will be helping her rather than muddling along by myself.

For a nice outing, we headed east, into the mountains for some cooler temperatures and scenic hiking.  On Route 60, east of Phoenix, is a string of old mining towns, some touristy and bustling, and some with more abandoned buildings than people.  We stopped in Globe to try out the trails of Round Mountain Park.  For a small town park, it was fantastic!  The wildflowers are blooming, the sun was a bit cooler at a higher elevation, and there was almost no one else around.  Enjoy the (as usual) JJ-centric pictures of the desert beauty!

The cactus are getting buds, too:

The view from the top of Round Mountain, over Globe, AZ:

This is my favorite one.  So ethereal:

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JJ has been working his little heart out on the huge project of redoing all the caulking on the roof.  He’s devoting 2 days each week to the job, and making pretty good headway.  At first, it seemed that it would be helpful for me to get up there too, and share the work.  But, after I gouged the paint several times and finally threw the scraper in frustration, we decided that it was better off as a one-man-job.  So, JJ spends his time up on the roof, and I do all the other chores for the day in order to let him rest when he’s done.  We’re spending a lot of time at home, but it will be worth it to have the whole project done.  We can leave on 4/3, and we want to be ready for travel!  Only 3 weekends and 6 days of work to go!

Lethargic

I have a funny, vague memory of going along with my sister when she took her cat to the vet.  I was probably about 8 or 9, and the cat was probably getting spayed.  The only thing I remember for sure was the conversation the vet had with my sister when she was ready to take the cat home.  “She’s going to be a bit lethargic for a while.”  “A bit what?”, my sister asked.  “Lethargic.”  My sister nodded sagely, but as soon as we got to the car, she immediately asked “What the heck does lethargic mean?!”  We looked it up when we got home (because you know, pre-smart phone era!), and lo and behold, the cat was indeed acting sluggish, inactive, slow, torpid….and yes, lethargic!

We, friends, without the spaying part, are feeling just like that cat.  We could attribute it to the recent explosion of all things green around us, and the accompanying pollen that fills the air.  It could be the sudden arrival of summer, with temperatures in the high 80s.   It could even be the fact that we are really over the novelty of living in the midst of 20 generators that run from before we get up until after we go to bed. Regardless, we are feeling very tired all the time, and not much like exploring our world.  This is really just a very lengthy lead-up to say: not much to tell you about, and not many pictures of what we didn’t do. 😦

Our one fun outing was to a Riparian Preserve in Gilbert AZ.  The city recycles 100% of its waste water, and the ponds are a huge draw for migrating birds.  There are walking paths that wind throughout the pools, and even though we’re not birders, we enjoyed seeing the variety of birds, from ducks to shorebirds to songbirds.  We even saw a pair of horseback riders!

JJ, at least, has good reason to be so tuckered, because he’s embarked on a grand plan to finish re-caulking the roof before we are finished with the festival on 4/2.  It’s a tedious job, starting with scraping off all the old caulking, cleaning the bare aluminum with acetone, and then applying the new caulking. The good news is that the job should last about 10 years, so he won’t have to do it again for a very long time!

He does have an assistant, but she’s really not very reliable, often stopping for sunning breaks.

We have just 8 more days of work left, the next four weekends.  In my spare time, I’m going to plan out a lovely route for our slow meander to our summer job, including a few repairs and also some gorgeous natural areas for some restorative relaxation!

 

(Almost) wordless Friday

This is a nearly wordless post for two reasons: I kind of forgot it was Friday and that I was due to put up a post, and at 7pm, it’s practically our bedtime! 🙂  Our week was a bit hectic, because we worked the weekend, as well as Tuesday and Thursday, which were student days at the festival.  Work continues to be confounding, but we are focusing on getting out into the world every week for some hiking to balance out our lives. Also, I am starting to plan our leisurely route over to our summer gig in Rock Creek near Mammoth Lakes, and I do love me some travel planning.  (A quick aside: Rock Creek has something like 20 feet of snow already, and more just keeps coming.  It seems that we may have a later start there this year, because the road won’t be open til almost June!)

Please enjoy our outing on old Route 60 in Superior, the “million dollar, convict highway” built by prison labor in the 1920s.  A modern, less twisty and steep version was built in the 1950s, and now the abandoned road is a walking path.  It was just the thing this week, for great scenery with very, very little effort.

Old bridge; new bridge:

Pretty wimpy guardrails:

There’s a wrecked 1930s car down in this chasm:

Arizona is nothing but a giant ode to the wonders of sedimentary deposits:

The end! The tunnel looked tiny from far away, but it’s huge with a human for scale!:

Staying sane

Last week, I promised that I would write more about working at the festival, and I have to admit that it’s not a very appealing subject. Because I am mostly working with people in the halfway house program, I’m experiencing a very different festival than I might if I were working for a craftsperson. A few of the people from the halfway house are there as an interim step after being homeless or in prison, but the vast majority are there to get sober, and their lives are just a series of god-awful events. One guy just got out of prison after a 12 year stint. One woman lost her business, her house and her husband due to drinking. Another guy grew up on the Hopi Reservation, and can’t live there without drinking. He left his family behind to try and escape the early death that befell so many of his family members.  A guy in JJ’s kitchen was fired this weekend when his meth pipe fell out of his pants and onto the floor.

The craziest part has been the realization of what values I hold, which I thought were universal, but most certainly are not. For example, I assume that everyone can read, and that they went to high school. One of my co-workers needs help to read the contents of the boxes in the refrigerator, and many of the folks I work with never finished high school. I’m slowly starting to feel like some kind of bourgeoisie jerk, who actually had it all, and never knew it.  The hardest thing is keeping up my value system in the face of a million coworkers who just don’t care.  I am seen as really anal and weird for wanting to do things right, and as I am asked.  I’m counting down the days we have left to work, and trying not to suck up too much of the negativity.

After 3 days of working in Crazyland, (weekend + President’s Day!) we needed some fun. On the day that we ran all our errands in town, we went out for tacos and ice cream. I loved Mucha Lucha taco shop, decorated in a Mexican wrestling motif, and for the yummiest food we’ve had in a long time. We also stopped for shaved snow, a fluffy style of ice milk that’s huge in Asian teahouses.

You could come here every day for a month and not get a repeat!

I was also seriously craving some quiet after living in the middle of constantly running generators and barking dogs. Superior, AZ is about 20 miles east of us, and surrounded by lots of mountains sprinkled with hiking trails. When we were there a few weeks ago, we picked up a map that shows lots of these hidden gems. There’s practically nothing online about many of these hikes, so we picked a likely candidate and headed for the GPS coordinates.

(Sorry that the next set of pictures is mostly the JJ show.  He’s awfully cute, and I’m just not a selfie sort of girl.)

Scenic Route 60 through the mountains:

Apache Leap trail is more like a rock hop up a small stream, ending in high bluffs overlooking the town. We saw exactly zero other people on the trail. It was just right in terms of solitude, views, and quiet.

Just that morning, I commented to JJ that I really would like to transport to the resort for a day and take a walk up to the secret ponds (which don’t exist, wink wink) above the resort.  This hike had a surprise lake that totally reminded me of what I was craving!

Drunk with (solar) power

We’ve always known that we wanted more solar panels on our roof, but we just hadn’t gotten around to doing it, even after almost 3 years as full-time RVers.  This winter was the first time that we were on the road rather than in an RV park with power, and we really started to feel the limitations of our small system.  The problem wasn’t so much that we wanted to be able to use a ton of power, but rather that we had too little up top to recoup what we were losing.  One little panel is ok for long summer days, but with only a few good hours of charging near the winter solstice, we needed more capabilities.

On Monday, we drove back to Yuma, AZ, and spent the night in the parking lot of Starlight Solar, so as to be ready for our early morning Tuesday appointment.  Our appointment started with the owner and 2 techs up on our roof with cardboard cutouts the size of the panels that needed to find a home.  Our roof is tiny and cluttered with skylights, but they found a good layout that allowed us to keep our old panel, too.  By then end of the day, we had a system with 5 times as much solar generating power as our old one.  It will be awesome to always have enough to run lights and charge our electronics, even on cloudy stretches in the winter!


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I know that I said last time that I would wait to assess our work situation until we had the first weekend under our belt, but I’m still not sure what to make of the whole thing.  JJ and I are both working in festival kitchens, where the majority of other workers are kids from ROTC, or part of a local halfway house program. A few folks are downright crazy, but for the most part, I like a lot of my co-workers.

JJ and I were both thrown in our areas a bit haphazardly, and only given snippets of instructions on what we were doing.  He is baking pizzas, and I am making taco salads and filling drink orders for the cash handlers who interface with the public.  They are definitely “hurry-up-and-wait” sorts of jobs, where you have an enormous rush when a show ends at a stage near your area, and then long lulls where there’s no business.

The days are long, starting at 8am, and generally finishing around 6:45 or 7pm.  We are on our feet, on concrete, the whole time, and for the first time in my life, I’m having foot and back pain from the standing.  I think the problem might be from just being in one spot for hours on end, rather than walking and moving. That first weekend was really tough, and we were ready for 5 days off!  This upcoming weekend is 3 days long, including President’s Day, and hopefully, we’ll be more comfortable with our duties so they feel easier. More on all that next week.

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I just wanted to give a huge shout out to Amazon, for a really useful invention: the locker pickup.  When you check out and choose your shipping address, you now have the option to pick up from a Amazon locker.  Since we don’t have an address for a couple months, it’s a really handy way to get deliveries.  When you item is ready for pickup, you get an email with a barcode in it.  You locate the lockers (tucked into the side of a strip mall in our case), scan the barcode from your phone screen, and a door pops open to reveal your prize!  This a perfect solution for full-time RVers!


 
Until next week!

Our Firsteval!

I’ve been to exactly one Renaissance Festival in my life, and it was at least 20 years ago in Southern Ohio.  I remember the elaborate costumes, the great performances, and spectacles in every direction.  When we signed up to work at the Arizona Festival for February and March, I didn’t really know what to expect from an experience working in the back. And even after being here for a week, I still feel just the same!

This festival is HUGE–attendance can often top 15,000 on a nice day. In addition to the festival grounds being gigantic, there’s acres and acres of land surrounding the “village” for camping, parking, and elephant storage.  (More on that last bit later.)  The parts that the public sees are just the tip of the iceberg, and every area is a completely different, with different festival folks living in different areas.

We are in the main campground, which is just a large field with no defined sites, and no water or electrical hookups. Most of our neighbors work for the craftspeople who sell things here, and they travel a circuit with their employer, staying about 2-3 months at each festival before moving to the next.  A lot of the full-timers are in travel trailers or RVs, but a decent amount are tent camping.  We’ve also seen just about every possible funky mobile home possibility, from a homemade truck camper that looks like a pirate ship, to a mutant hybrid of a trailer with a truck topper welded onto the top for a second story loft.  There are port-o-potties and dumpsters throughout the campground, a drinking water spigot close by, and a small showerhouse on the far side of the festival.

The festival is arranged in a circle, so the crafters can have their RV and living area behind their shop. These sites have electric hookups, but apparently not sewer, because I see that most of them have arranged for a port-o-potty to be set up on their site.  The craftspeople must have ongoing contracts with the festival, because they have gorgeous storefronts customized to what they are selling, rather than cookie cutter boxes like at an art festival.

Finally, there is the coveted full-hookup area, and that’s where the festival puts up the acts who are paid to perform on the many stages at the festival: acrobats, comedians, magicians, and one guy who apparently does musical whip cracking.

We had orientation last Saturday for our department, Food and Beverage.  We are working for the festival itself,  but we are in the minority when it comes to the demographics for our department.  See, the festival needs to hire about a million weekend-only employees to handle food service, and it seems that about 99% of the manpower is supplied by some unique temporary agencies: The Junior ROTC, and residents of an enormous drug and alcohol rehab residence in Phoenix.  I’m trying to keep a positive perspective, but I’m a little concerned about working with people like the woman who snapped at me to leave her alone and stop asking personal questions when  I inquired if she had even worked at the festival before.  Or the guy who really needed a bath.

We met our kitchen managers, and toured the facilities.  We are working in the oldest, smallest, tightest kitchen complex which is also the first food place you come to as you enter the festival, and therefore the busiest.  Day one training was a bit haphazard, but as far as I can tell, I will be working the soup and bread bowl area, and JJ will be making pizzas.  We’re in different kitchens, but just a few doors down from one another.  My manger seems like tyrant and a stickler for detail, but in a good, kindly way.  He promised to try to get us breaks before we pass out from the heat, as has happened in past years.  Any other opinions about the job would just be conjecture until we work it for a weekend.  Opening day is tomorrow, and I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of dread, but hoping for the best.

Our respective locations:

We’ve gotten out and explored around us, and there’s lots to do in the this area to keep us busy on our 5-day “weekends”.  We hiked up in the Superstition Mountains, and visited the mining town of Superior, AZ .

Hieroglyphic Canyon featured a spring fed waterfall and pictographs:

Superior, AZ:

Little Soupy is most pleased, as we can let her run around outside.  She loves the green grass that’s everywhere, and has a fine time chasing lizards and sniffing in ground squirrel holes.  The only downside is the cholla cactus that leaves little segments all over the ground underneath it.  Soup came home with a couple feet stuck good with the spines, but as soon as we pulled them out, she was begging to go out again.

The one part that I do really like is walks around the festival loop. It’s good people watching, there’s often folks rehearsing their acts, and lots of activities going on. The “village” is still getting readied, and many shops have scaffolding up for painting. I also feel like I see something interesting every time I’m out. A couple days ago, I stopped dead in my tracks, not comprehending what I was seeing out in the field. I thought for sure that it was a life-sized elephant statue, and then it moved! There is a petting zoo and animal rides here, so I can see elephants, camels, llamas, horses, goats, sheep and yaks on my route.

Box office:

The Royal Stables:

Pray for us, and we’ll let you know how it goes!