Friday, September 6, 2013

A tale of two cities

I was in Billings, Montana and made the cheap and easy choice to spend the night at a truck stop. Not glamorous, not scenic, but convenient. Restrooms, showers, food, wifi. But truck stops are noisy. Big rigs coming and going all night.

I picked a parking spot off on the edge of the lot, among pickups, cars, SUVs and a couple of big RVs. I closed the curtain between the cab and the back of the van then clipped a towel across the rear windows.

Another vehicle pulled in next to me a little later. I peeked out and saw it was someone with a puppy in a station wagon. Puppies are always a good sign.

Now, the natural reaction might be that truck stops are filled with unsavory characters, trouble makers and other potential problems. But, for me, the constant activity at truck stops is reassuring. If there are more people who might cause trouble, there are also more people who might spot it and do something about it. And there's the real or imagined safety-in-numbers aspect of it. And the truck stop operators certainly want their businesses to be customer-friendly and safe.

I slept with no problems, had a shower in the morning, and was on my way.

The next night I stayed in a public park in a small rural town (population about 1,500). I found it listed on a website for RV folks. I rolled in at about 5:30 and was the first one there. I picked a spot near the restroom.

At about 6:30 two cars pulled in and parked side-by-side at the far end of the park. I could be wrong, but something about them made me think they were locals coming to party a little after work. But I didn't mind as long as they stayed at their end of the park. Another car joined them later.

A big Class A motorhome towing and SUV arrived and parked between me and the cars, one of which then left. Shortly after dark the remaining cars left. So it was just the people in the RV (who I never saw outside their RV) and me.

It was a warm night, so I had the windows and doors partly open to catch the breeze. I kept waking up.

At about 12:30, I saw a very bright flashlight up toward the park entrance. The person carrying it was walking along the park road, scanning to the left and right. I wondered, "Good guy or bad?"

The light found my van and held on it for a long second or two. The guy moved along, making a lap of the park. "Okay," I thought, "just the local constabulary checking on things. I hope."

Still awake at about 1:30, I heard tires on gravel. A car cruised slowly toward the van. It stopped by my open back door. Ah, it was a sheriff's car.

I waved.

It moved on, making a lap of the park and leaving.

I was left awake thinking, "Okay, here I am out in the middle of sparsely populated Montana, far from big city problems, but I'm jumpy. It's too quiet. I know small towns aren't trouble free. Small towns breed boredom. Boredom breeds trouble. Small towns offer fewer targets for those inclined to cause trouble. If there were no potential for trouble, would authorities be patrolling the area? Do they think strangers like me might be the trouble? Is everyone suspicious? Is there reason to be?

I will need to get over this jumpiness if I'm going to enjoy camping alone in remote areas. Hey, I've seen "Deliverance."

Last night I stayed in a truck stop. I slept great.

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