Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Tuna Can Trailer

“I was laid off today”. A door, which the previous year looked like an opportunity when Jim moved from General Dynamics to Bausch and Lomb, had been slammed shut. One might think those words uttered by my first husband would have sent me into paroxysms of worry. There was no time, however, to absorb the initial comment because his next statement unlatched and threw open a window of possibilities. “Let’s move to New Mexico”.

Hopi Pottery
Pueblo Pottery

Passionate twenty-something year old declarations go a long way in masking more desperate realities. We had little idea into what we were descending. Coming down from the turquoise skies of our theoretical musings, we had to deal with the practical aspects of making the transition from Southern California suburbia to Blue Highways. Sell the house; transport three cats, one dog and one horse; stow the furniture; find a vehicle.

While still in my professional high heels, I stowed containers of pottery and trays of jewelry in the trunk of my company car, deftly redirecting briefcases of executive visitors to the back seat, while boxes of art rather than boxes of Tide were concealed in its tail. After choosing the exit ramp from corporate America, I initially purchased a Toyota 4Runner for expanding my small trading business up and down the California coast. Wearing a broomstick skirt and attempting a good impression, I was, in fact, embarrassing myself by constantly stepping on and pulling it down while digging boxes out of the back of the truck. Some might think it was a particularly cheap sales ploy. In my case, it was akin to a donkey trying to work in a tuxedo.

With our world and small business expanding into the Great Southwest, a small trailer was needed. My minimum requirement was a bathroom with shower and toilet. Jim tracked down an eighteen foot Prowler. Condensing one’s life from a 2,000 square foot home to a 144 square foot travel trailer brings life’s essentials into focus. The miniscule box which was to become our mobile home provided for every need. The closet and drawers held enough clothes; the refrigerator held enough food; the cupboards held the basics; the simple stove and oven more than matched my simple culinary repertoire; and. . .our minute commode saved us from gas station bathroom purgatory.

Our little trailer lent itself to the illusion of a romantic lark, which in fact, it was. The larger truth, however, was that we were justly terrified by the yawning abyss of our future financial prospects. Rather than the big hat, no cattle approach, we were, well, little hat and the herd was fairly insignificant at that point, too. We were young enough and naive enough to envision the caviar dreams while puttering about in our tuna can trailer. It certainly did not embody a dress for success approach to business, but I know that little trailer more than made up for its humble appearance with a successful string of sympathy sales, free lodging and new friends acquired because of its less than impressive looks. We soon generated over a half million dollars in annual sales.

Navajo Ganado Rug
Navajo Ganado Rug

My beloved 4Runner was replaced with a larger truck to better handle the trailer load, plus I stopped running out of gas in between pseudo-towns in the middle of the Nevada desert. I camped on the beach sands of Lake Powell; in the granite splendor of Yosemite and parallel parked in San Francisco. My many friends chuckled at this eccentric new lifestyle, probably sometimes embarrassed by my rickety and rough-edged business, yet oddly intrigued. Every vestige of successful corporate trappings were as stripped as my little hauler’s siding and yet, I appeared, oh, I don’t know. . .happy.

I knew the beginning of the end of that simple carrier first emerged while sailing across the Hopi reservation. Construction was happening between Jeddito and Keams Canyon. Workers were waving to me as I passed. “How friendly”, thought I until finally glancing at my sideview mirror, I noticed the siding had peeled away and was flapping in the wind, promising to take out the first road employee who wasn’t paying close attention. I pulled into Keams Canyon, had the garage rivet the siding back in place and proceeded with my travels. My forlorn little carrier proved to be my greatest protection. Without a fancy outfit to haul the pottery, rugs and jewelry, who would ever suspect that several hundred thousand dollars worth of merchandise was contained within its scarred, aluminum walls.

The little trailer never failed to provide a humble home while traversing the beauty which is this American nation. It was finally retired when I noticed it was giving the Tower of Pisa a serious run for its listing money. Bigger trucks and shinier trailers took its place. I remain fond of and grounded in those modest beginnings. Last year, when Kira, Grange and I toured the United States, I once again pondered my choice of vehicles and lodging arrangements. I settled on a Toyota van and a Coleman tent. My tuna can trailer taught me that simple is better, especially when national parks are your living room and cities your backyard; when inner experience is more important than outward appearances.

With warm regards,

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