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Phoenix Renews

When we finally made it into Phoenix, we knew we needed to find some places to volunteer. So we started asking around. The answer came sooner than we thought. When we asked the guy we were staying with, Zac told us about a group he had worked with in the past: a community garden called Phoenix Renews.

We got in contact with one of the lead organizers and found out there was an event that Saturday! So we called as many people as we knew in Phoenix and invited them all to come out with us and volunteer.

When Stefan, Zac, and I got out there, we must have been a bit early because there was no one around from the group. So we decided to explore a bit on our own and walked around the magnificent area. There were countless hand-built plots. Most of them were full of all kinds of vegetables and flowers. There were benches and small covered areas and even a temporary house (the rule was no permanent structures). Many of the plots were painted and decorated. There was just life and creativity everywhere. It was an amazing place to walk around, and I felt myself getting excited to be a part of it.

After nearly 20 minutes of exploring this magical place, we saw some new people arrive. And low and behold, they were the ones we had been waiting for. We were approached by two volunteers, Krystal and Katie, and two volunteer leaders, Cindy and Katie (yes, two Katies). We greeted everyone and after a short conversation marveling at the garden around us, leader-Katie explained what she would have us doing that day.

Dust is a big problem in Phoenix, and cars stir up a lot of it, causing the dust to settle everywhere and sap much needed water from the crops. So we were tasked with drawing out and lining a parking area to consolidate the dust clouds to one area. We began by moving large pieces of crushed asphalt out to the site in wheelbarrows.

Just a few chunks of asphalt could get heavy quick, and more than once, gravity won out over balance, tipping the wheelbarrows over and dumping their contents. We got used to the weight however, and in less than half an hour, the lot was created.

After we finished the work so quickly, Katie had us start driving signposts around the area. It was hard work and the sun was definitely getting to us at this point. She insisted that we take breaks every fifteen minutes or so. Probably a smart idea. After the main areas were all designated, we took some time to walk around some areas we hadn’t seen before.

Toward the back, there was a stone garden with spirals and structures made of river ricks. There was also a cool social area under a large tree. There were cut stumps for chairs in a circle in the shade. After our final exploration, we invited everyone back to Zac’s place for lunch and swimming.

All in all, a pretty excellent day.

Bradley


La Mujer Obrera Community Farm

When we arrived at Mujer Obrera for the first time, the gates were locked. We were told to arrive around 10am, but our friend Julian had to be at work soon after, so he dropped us off a bit early at a park down the street. We said our goodbyes and surveyed the beautiful park we were in. We took the extra time to reflect on our time with him, and we read a few passages out of the book he had given us: You Are The World. Good stuff. When it was time, we walked back to the locked gate, only to find it still locked. We called our contact Carolina and found out that the man in charge wouldn’t be there until 1pm that day. A bit of a problem considering our lack of transportation and lack of sunscreen.

Nonetheless, we walked the four and a half miles back to the NASA Service Center where Harvey was getting another hip replacement. Despite the intense heat, it was a fun walk. We were exploring a new city and, while exhausting, had an excitement to it. We made it back uneventfully and got to work on what we could do with our limited means. So after another day spent working on our laptops in the mechanic’s waiting area, we were more than eager to get our hands dirty the next day.

We had Harvey back from the shop with tentative assurances that he was road ready. So we drove him over to the garden around 10:30am the next day, and sure enough, the gates were open. As we walked in, we were greeted by a small group of would-be gardeners, all about our own age, working at re-potting Aloe Vera plants to be sold at a farmers market. We greeted Carolina and introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. They were friendly and welcoming, though it seemed clear they were not used to seeing new faces.

We asked Carolina to put us to work, and at first she seemed stumped. The head honcho was the one to ask about jobs for newbies, and he was otherwise engaged for the moment. So she showed us around the repurposed residential lot. It was much bigger than we would have guessed from the street, and they had a wide variety of crops already growing tall. The sunflowers stand out most in my mind, some of them almost as big as my head, and covered in a healthy drift of bees. Towards the back were also a huge stack of adobe bricks and more that were still drying in the sun. They would soon be used in the construction of an oven. We walked in a large circle and eventually made it back to the shaded bench with the now re-potted aloe plants.

Carolina put us to work temporarily clearing small clover and morning glory from an irrigation ditch that ran nearly half the length of the lot. The plants may have been small, but they were sprouting up all down the bottom and sides of the ditch, clogging and stealing the water; water that was already dangerously scarce. While Stefan carried out this task, I followed behind him, removing the loosened dirt that was left behind his carnage. But before too long, our host, Guillermo, emerged.

He wore a bandana on his forehead and a wide straw hat, and looked perfectly in place in this garden of toil and growth. He came out with tools and a sense of purpose I envied. Carolina introduced us, and I asked how I could be of use. After some pondering, he set me digging a hole to plant some citronella plants. They would help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the garden. Most of the dirt I moved was dry and dead, although near the bottom there remained some life. We placed the plant and then filled the hole with a mixture of healthy soil and chicken poop.

With the plants in the ground, the next task was a relaxing one. The Dia de los Muertos festival would begin in November and for the flowers to be ready, they would have to be planted on the first of July. We all sat in chairs in a circle and began to break open dried flower pods. These were leftover from the previous year’s celebration and most were rich with seeds.

Sitting in the shade breaking open the seed pods, we had cooled considerably. The work could have been monotonous, but instead it was peaceful and satisfying. During this time, Guillermo had disappeared into his trailer and in a moment, he returned to us with a bounty of honeydew, strawberries, and papaya, most of which had been grown right here in La Mujer Obrera. He explained to us that papaya is very important in developing countries and is often considered holy. They are incredibly nutritious and fruit year-round. Even the leaves have healing properties and can be used to treat wounds. Eating the sacred fruit we were dirty and we were clean. We felt full and we felt happy.

After we ate and finished the flower seeds, Guillermo informed us that it was time for a blessing to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain and fertility. We could participate if we wanted. The group followed Guillermo over to a small shrine tucked away in some trees. He lit some incense and individually he had us sweep some over our head and into our heart. We each gave a small blessing to the health and growth of the plants and food around us. Then we walked around the farm blessing each plot and the life that was growing there. We once again circled back to the benches and the shrine.

At this point there was little else planned for the day. We decided to go ahead and finish the remaining flower buds and talk. The hottest part of the day was approaching and the party was coming to an end. We thanked Guillermo for everything and promised him we would send love his way as well as more volunteers.

I can’t wait to return to El Paso and see my fellow farmers again.

Bradley


Next stop: El Paso… I mean Sierra Blanco

As we were leaving Van Horn with an inexplicable crippled engine, we resigned ourselves to the idea of inching along the access road until we could find a mechanic who could help us. While the fellas in Van Horn had tried earnestly to help us, they had neither the facilities, nor the willingness to bite off more than they could chew delving into Harvey’s ancient inner workings. The general consensus was: get to El Paso. They have everything there.

So we trundled off down I-10, wary of the unknown rumbles coming from under the hood, and dreading the 30 mile stretch of desert between us and the next town. We couldn’t go very fast and there was no consistent side road, so we were relegated to the far right lane of the 75mph highway. Every semi that hurtled past rocked Harvey out and then back as he was sucked in by the vacuum. It was a very peaceful time for all of us.

BAM!

Another tire? Jesus, could anything else go wrong? I pulled the rig over and at this point we all just started laughing. We had been awake for odd hours for almost a day and laughing was about all we could do. It started small and grew, but soon we were all three just leaning in silent laughter at the absurdity of it all.

After we wound down, I walked around the side and, sure enough, the back left tire had blown a tread. Stefan and I stood outside for a minute considering our options. There was no sense returning to Van Horn. We were 20 miles away and we knew already how limited their resources were. We had a spare tire, but our jack wasn’t heavy duty enough for Harvey’s girth. So the only thing that made sense was to try to make the 10 miles into the next town, Sierra Blanco.

We were about to get back in the car when I noticed a vague smell of piss. I had a suspicion where it was coming from so I walked to the back of the rig and looked underneath. Sure enough there was a gaping hole in our blackwater tank, the tank that holds our used toilet water. When the tread had blown off it flipped up with such a force that it had smashed a hole in the plastic tank. I wasn’t even shocked at this point. This was just one more addition to our comedy of obstacles.

So we limp down the highway on our bald tire and finally make it into the outskirts of town. There were a couple of shops that sell tires and parts and such and another that had a garage. We pull up alongside one of them, and Stefan walks in to ask to borrow a jack. Apparently the man inside wouldn’t let us borrow a jack, but he was willing to charge us $45 to use it. Needless to say Stefan walked across the street to the other shop and the man there offered a jack for $35… just to borrow it. Over the next ten minutes or so, Stefan walked back and forth across the street letting the sand sharks indirectly bid for use of their jack. After several trips, he settled with one of them for $20.

I backed in to the garage and climbed in the back, psyching myself up for the inevitable ordeal changing this tire would be. I grabbed some tools, hopped out, and walked in to the garage. It was there I met Payo.

In the middle of the garage was a giant tractor tire on its side, and on top of the tire was a large chair ripped out of a car. Payo sat atop his throne with a .22 rifle propped on his shoulder, sipping a giant fast food soda. His two granddaughters sat on either side of him in similar seats. He stared at us silently while we struggled to remove and replace the tires. It was disturbingly regal and creepy as hell.

After watching us try in vain for 15 minutes to remove the busted tire, I guess he figured we weren’t any threat to him and actually offered to help. He put the gun away somewhere and got out his air powered impact drill to remove the bolts. Compared to the tire iron, the drill made short work of the lug nuts.

Next came the jack, the one we’d bartered for. The back left tire was an awkward one to get to, and the range of the jack was limited. Stefan and I took turns pumping the lever and helping Payo replace the tire. Not only was it exhausting, but to get to the lever we had to lean right up against our busted septic tank. Joy.

We eventually got the spare on and put the bald tire where the spare had been. We thanked Payo and paid him; a little extra since he’d gotten down on the ground and sweat with us. And then we turned our backs on Sierra Blanco and continued the slow crawl into El Paso. We still had exhaust problems, but at least we had six tires on the ground. It would be a long process, but there was nowhere to go but west.

Bradley


Van Horn, the Outer Limits

If there were ever a place to have your RV start sputtering, shuddering, and slowing to a crawl, that place is Van Horn, Texas. As soon as we pulled in off of the highway, it was clear to see that we would be well taken care of here. From the abandoned buildings to the packs of stray dogs we felt warm, welcome, and most of all, safe. After pulling in to the second seemingly open, but ultimately deserted auto shop, Stefan decided to venture down the street to what appeared to be a Post Office. Mel and I wished him well and assured him that, if he were to meet his gruesome and/or supernatural demise there, he would surely be missed.

After five tense minutes during which we recounted each episode of the Twilight Zone that had begun similarly to this, Stefan emerged unharmed with news of a local mechanic who might be able to help us.

As soon as we pulled up to the locked gate, another car pulled in along side us. It was Bill, and he was there to open the gates. While Bill would ultimately not be able to fix our problem, or even diagnose it, he sure did try. He had us rev the gas while he poked around the engine. He even took it for a gripping test drive up the access road and back where, I shit you not, he checked his text messages while flooring it. Now luckily, due to our unknown problem, “flooring it” only brought us up to 45 mph. Nonetheless it was comforting that he was so open with his driving habits in front of us. I felt like we were old friends. Once it became clear that neither he nor his “associate” could explain the cause of our loss of power, he sent us to another mechanic a few blocks down Main St.

After waiting for 45 minutes in heat and uncertainty, Juan arrived and we went over the description of our troubles again. After just over 400 miles of driving, our RV started slowing up hills, dropping our top speed from 65, to 55, then 45 mph. After a certain point the gas pedal just became unresponsive. Juan also decided to take Harvey for a spin around the town. Somehow though, after sitting still for a while, Harvey was running smoothly again. There are few things more frustrating than taking a car to a mechanic, and having the problem disappear as soon as he touches it. Nevertheless he made some suggestions given what we could tell him about the trouble. And after more tinkering, said we would probably be fine to drive the remaining 120 miles to El Paso. So we thanked him, gave him a slice of delicious crumb cake our dear friend Saleh had baked for us, and went on our way.

Little did we know, we would be halted agaiun less than a mile outside of the city, this time of a totally different nature. But Sierra Blanco is another story, to be typed in another coffee shop. Now is the time for tacos and sleep.

It is my solemn hope, that of the few citizens of the glorious township of Van Horn that use the internet, that even fewer of them understand sarcasm. And if by some cruel twist of fate I am wrong, I apologize to both of you.

Bradley