Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Some folks have written and asked if my vacation was also top-secret since I didn’t say where we went (y’all are quick). I was just about to tell you a few stories from my not top-secret vacation when I got waylaid by the Emmys, an internet crash and a move to a new Top Secret Location.

Stories to come. Here’s a quick outline. The trip was just like Planes, Trains and Automobiles minus John Candy and Steve Martin, and the trains and automobiles. 😀

It was Trucks

Heidi saw this and said: “Is that supposed to be our truck? Yes. It looks just like it except I left off the back door, the tires aren’t really flat etc…




We flew Southwest where “luggage is free”, there are no assigned seats and they still give you tiny pretzels and peanuts.


and Cruise Ships


The squiggles above the ship could be smoke or waves. I couldn’t decide which to draw so you can take your pick.


Time for an aside here:

I have no idea why I decided to illustrate this post myself. Just so you know, I know that I can’t draw and I’m perfectly fine with that. I have no aspirations so you don’t need to send me kind, encouraging comments about how I’ll get better with practice. Y’all are so sweet but I won’t get better and I won’t practice. This was a one time thing.

Back to the story:

We drove from our TSL in Texas to Tucson,where Henry VIII vacationed for 2 weeks with a good friend and we visited my Sis (Hi Sis, it was grand!). Then we flew from Tucson to San Diego to fly to Seattle to take a boat to Alaska. We sailed away on an all expense paid cruise (which I won by virtue of being related to a very generous cousin – thank you T!) from Seattle to Kodiak. Then, we flew from Seattle to Albuquerque to fly back to Tucson to reunite with Henry (thank you, Gene!) and pick up the pickup to drive back to our TSL. 😀

Just before we left, I sprained my wrist doing something SO top-secret on my TSJ that I can’t even remember what it was which I couldn’t tell you anyway. So when I say we drove, really just Heidi drove. Henry and I sang to keep her awake. When Henry and I sing, it’s very hard to sleep. (If I’m going to be truly forthcoming, Henry just lip-syncs.)

*Henry wasn’t harmed in the making of this trip. He’s in his kennel which took up a full 1/2 of the back seat. Despite appearances, he wasn’t covered in luggage.

At least H says that’s why she drove – all the way to Arizona – and all the way back again. Maybe… It could also be because I’m still on tiny palm tree probation from last fall. It was quite a trip. Non-illustrated stories to follow.

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. ~ Yogi Berra

Too Close For Comfort

After living all my life in small “vowel states”, I’ve landed in the really big consonant state of Texas. But in Texas, just like in Oregon and Iowa and Indiana, people are fragmented in all the same ways: politics, fashion, socioeconomic status, dietary habits, prejudices, religion. Sometimes we span the space; sometimes connecting is more like being in a log-rolling competition.

In order to cross those great divides, we often try to make some kind of physical connection: a smile, a reassuring pat, eye contact… Before we can connect, we have to find a personal comfort zone that includes not just inner peace but also a way to be physically at ease in our environment. Sociologists call the physical aspect social distance. Social distance is typically divided into 4 comfort zones.

When you live in an RV, the topic of emotional and physical space comes up a lot more often than fashion or socioeconomics so I thought I’d take a look at our comfort zones. I’ve being thinking about the people I know and how different we are when it comes to social distance.

The guidelines for social distance were established over 40 years ago (Hall, 1966) but are still the standard today. Although social distances are approximate and vary individually, here’s a quick recap of the 4 most commonly recognized zones (for Americans, since body language in general is very culturally specific):

1. The public zone is 12 feet or more. Here’s the thinking: when out in public, we instinctively try to keep at least 12 feet between us those we don’t know. That’s why some people go grocery shopping at midnight!
Once someone gets closer than 12 feet, we start to notice them. As the unknown person gets nearer, our minds subconsciously prepare for fight or flight. Although the need is rarely there, the body intuitively prepares to protect itself or flee.

2. The social zone is approximately 4-12 feet. Within this distance we start to feel a connection with other people. We can talk without shouting. This is an average group distance. We may be gathered in the same area but not necessarily talking directly with one another. Typical examples would be parties or social gatherings.

3. The personal zone is usually 1.5-4 feet. It’s considered normal conversational distance. This would encompass everyday, non-threatening conversations with friends, family, co-workers etc…

4. The intimate zone is 1.5 feet or closer. When a someone is within arms reach, not only can we touch them, we can also see the details of their body language and look them in they eye. Another interesting aspect is that when they’re closer, they also blot out other people so all we can see is them (and vice versa). If you really like the person, this is a great space; if not, it can feel pretty threatening.

Rules about social distance also vary with different groups of people,for example, city folks and country folks. People who live in towns spend more time close to one another and so their social distances may compact. In a large, crowded city, the social distance comfort zones are even closer.

People who normally live a long way from others will expand their social distances. the classic example is a farmer who leans over towards another person to shake hands and then back off to a safe distance.

It gets convoluted because, like much of science, the social distance theory is just that, theory, not fact. While the average intimate zone is 1.5 feet, for some it’s nearer 5.1!

Enter another person’s personal zone or intimate zone uninvited and you will likely be perceived as an emotional, if not physical, threat; activating their fight or flight response. You’re messing with their amygdalae (a pair of almond-shaped brain regions deep within each temporal lobe that control fear and the processing of emotion).

Think of the times you’ve been engaged in a really meaningful conversation. Your companion seems to be on the verge of sharing something real: hurt, guilt, failure, joy. Then you never find out because suddenly the subject is changed and the moment for revelation has passed. Many friendships stall out when one person’s personal zone is so vast that it can never be entered, keeping others forever at an emotional arm’s length.

While the average personal/conversational zone is 1.5 to 4 feet, some people break out in a sweat if you get closer than 6 feet. If you notice them leaning or stepping back, stop moving in! The same principal holds true on the emotional level.

I grew up in a physically and emotionally demonstrative family. My spatial comfort zone is pretty much up-close and personal. I can easily be a space invader. I have no problem ‘weeping with those who weep’, or even with those who don’t.

I went with a friend to the vet to offer support when she had to put her dog down. Although this was the first time I’d seen the dog, watching her hold him while he ‘went to sleep’ was something I found to be heart wrenching. I was so empathetic that I was the only one crying. The vet asked me to leave and wait at the fast food place next door.

How many times have you heard (or said) “I’m not a hugger”?
I was born a hugger. I gave happy hugs and sad hugs, empathetic hugs and ‘I’m just glad to see you’ hugs. If there was a lack of reciprocity: limp arms, or a stiffening of the body, I would hug harder, thinking this person must really be in need. It took me a long time to learn to honor other people’s boundaries.

As a gate guard, I’m paid to enforce boundaries. I don’t just keep track of strangers, I have to know the whereabouts of all of our guys all the time. The men who live here on site have about as much personal space as a they’d have in a military barracks.

Although the 2 “Company Men” have a fairly nice trailer to themselves, 9 of the guys share one 60′ trailer, 4 live in a toy-hauler, 4 live in the 14 footer, 2 live in a windowless 12 footer. Many of these guys are in their 20’s, quite a few are in their 30’s and 40’s. There are even a few old codgers like me.

I’ve made some observations as the temperature rises in southern Texas. The guys put in a lot of truck time. Initially,whenever a guy walked out and sat in his truck, I’d pick up my log and pen, ready to record his times and destination. Now I know to wait.

Some guys eat in their trucks, some make phone calls, some listen to the radio, some just sit. For the derrick-men, the roughnecks, the tool-pushers and the drillers, their trucks are the only personal space they have.

In the past, social scientists have attributed variances in comfort zones to peer reinforcement and occupation (environment) or parenting (heredity). Now we know it’s also a brain thing. According to a recent article in Time: Health and Science we can trace many of our comfort zone differences to our amygdalae.

A team of scientists from Cal Tech have been studying a 42-year-old woman (pseudonym SM) who has severe damage to her amygdalae due to a rare genetic condition.The study reports the results of experiments judging her conception of personal space.

They put SM through a series of tests in which they asked her to indicate the position at which she became uncomfortable as another woman, a researcher, approached her. SM’s preferred personal distance was 1.1 ft., about 4 times closer than the established standards.

In another trial, SM was asked to walk toward an experimenter and stop at the point at which she felt the distance was comfortable. SM walked until her nose was virtually touching the experimenter’s, all the while saying she felt perfectly at ease.

Researchers think people who suffer from extreme shyness may also have a problem in their temporal lobes. Even the tiniest lesion can affect a person’s ability to rightly read a friendly gesture or perceive a menacing one.

There’s no known way of repairing amygdalae. There isn’t a pill to increase one’s awareness of socially appropriate distance or a formula to create a state of un-shyness. But it is possible to understand that when you need to breathe, you may need to give your lobes some air. Find your comfort zone, honor your own boundaries, and consider bringing some light into the dark places by selective sharing with someone who’s truly earned your trust.

Everyone’s physical and emotional comfort radius is different. Some folks need a football field. Some would sit on your lap. For others, a Ford F250 cab is just about right.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Steps in Life

January 18, 2011 by Heidi

My main goal this morning was to add oil to the generator. It was low by half a quart the last time we checked it. I was able to remove the cap to the generator by using a hammer for a little leverage. It started right up again. The instructions for any work with the generator include doing that early in the day so if it doesn’t restart, we have several hours for help to arrive. No need for help today.

Yesterday I made room in the belly of the RV for gallons of drinking water. I had visions of one of the dozen or so containers breaking in the Jeep on the washboard approach to our little gate on the ranch.

We have enjoyed our stint on the ranch. It has been a manageable flow of semis and pickups. We still don’t know what we’re guarding. Each person just has his own chore to do and doesn’t seem to have much overall perspective. Thus, we don’t know how things are going.

They took the large 12 inch diameter pipes out today and just now a pickup came in to remove the flood lights. It seems to me that we are drawing to an end of something. This industry is a mystery to us.

As I type, Debbie is in Pleasanton getting our signal booster. We’re really hoping that this will mean we can start uploading this blog. If you’re reading this, we were able to make the air card work, or we gave up and are posting once a week from McDonald’s 45 miles away in Pleasanton.

While I was waiting for another semi, I took a seat on the steps and started thinking of the past.

My mom was raised on a farm and while this ranch is a thousand acres, hers was just 80. I remember being entertained by watching my Grandma cooking breakfast eggs on the wood cook stove. It made Grandma smile when I sat beside the stove watching her from the stairs. She told me my mom used to sit in that very spot when she was little.

My perch was the two walnut steps that went from the living room area to the old farm kitchen. They were unpainted, concave and worn smooth as the new face on a smart phone! You’ve heard of the comfy chair? These were comfy steps and I’ve tried all my life to find another pair to compete with them.

In my grade school years, I sat on the house steps to the back porch. Concrete steps. Icy cold in Northeast Iowa winters or scratchy in the summer sun while I ate fudge sickles. At school I sat on the edge of the fire escape slide. The aluminum was burning hot in the sun but offered protection in the wind. We weren’t supposed to play in the fire escape slide, but that never made any sense to me, so on weekends I’d sit there, mildly defiant, knowing I couldn’t get into trouble since it was Saturday.

In junior high school, I sat on bleacher steps and watched the high school girls practice 6 on 6 basketball. I memorized the movements, hoping to someday be a star. Honestly, after spending 2 years on the top bleacher…it only led to my sitting on the bottom most step for four years in high school as a bench warmer.

In college I escaped the chat in my dorm room and the smell of weed in the hallway by sitting on the back steps of the dorm. Hardly anyone used them and it became a good study place for me, cool like the porch steps and public like the bleachers.

In my twenties, I remember leaning against the railing on back steps of my house and praying earnestly, feeling that the little house couldn’t hold all my petitions. The steps were wooden, familiar and comforting.

In my thirties, I sat many weekends on the concrete platform outside a one bedroom apartment and waited for people to choose my garage sale items while I did my best to make a few extra cents. I found people stopped by if I was wearing something unusual, like a red hat with a feather in it. I had a collection of hats and they were props, not sale items.

In my forties, I sat on hay bale steps and drank champagne at Our Lady of The Mississippi Abbey every fall and celebrated a week of creativity and contemplation with the dear Sisters of OLM.

In my fifties, I sit on the two steps in my RV in Texas as I wait for the trucks to come to the gate I’m guarding. I was sitting there watching some long horn cattle in the lane when it occurred to me that I might be looking for the same old farm feeling I used to enjoy on those walnut steps! My grandma would smile if she knew!