As we were driving around Washington in September, a “wiring fault on trailer” message kept appearing on our dash. It had occasionally come on at earlier points in our trip, but all of the lights and blinkers still continued to work when the warning appeared, so we had more or less decided it was just an erroneous message. However, the morning we were leaving Sedro-Woolley when we did our routine tug test (we attach the truck to the trailer, apply the trailer brakes, and try to pull away from the trailer to ensure that we have a strong connection between the rigs), the trailer brakes would not engage. A couple of quick stops at RV service shops proved ineffective, because by the time we would get there the warning message would have turned off and they would be unable to help us. So we drove very carefully around the peninsula. Some days the trailer brake worked, some days it didn’t. Sometimes it even came and went within the same trek, and it wasn’t always consistent with when the warning message appeared.
We decided we wanted to nip this problem in the bud it before crossing the Cascades again, so we found an inexpensive city RV park near I-5, and made ourselves comfortable because the soonest chance to take Stumbo in for a full-on, brake wiring check-up was a full week away. We were scheduled for the next Wednesday at 9:00am just down the road. During the course of calling around for an appointment, one very helpful mechanic told us, “I’d put money on it that it just needs a new plug to connect to your truck. They age and get shorts in them, but it’s an easy, cheap fix. If you brought it here that’s the first step I would try anyway, so give it a try yourself and see if that fixes your problem.” So Brad bought the $6 replacement trailer plug end and spent a bit of time one afternoon replacing the piece. We hooked up to the trailer a couple of times, and the warning message didn’t come on. One afternoon we even towed around the campground for awhile and it seemed that this simple repair had indeed solved the problem – “wiring fault” messages and trailer brakes were working fine. We were relieved that this cheap simple repair had solved our issue. On Tuesday, the day before we left, we called and cancelled our 9:00am Wednesday appointment.
The city park, adjacent to soccer and baseball fields, and host to a cross country meet while we were there, was quite an inexpensive place to camp. And even if you weren’t parked in one of the RV sites that included water and electric, there were plenty of secluded parking areas where people seemed to just live in their cars. About half way through our stay in this park the girls made friends with 2 other little girls in the campground. They played with barbies and tubs of water outside on the picnic table which eventually turned into enormous and heavy mud creations. We hadn’t had other campground kids to play with for quite awhile, so it was a happy treat to make some great new friends.
Over the course of a couple of days of hanging out with the girls and their mom, we slowly came to realize that they were “homeless”. They had just maxed out their stay at a DV shelter in a nearby town, and were currently living in a tent at this city park. We shared some meals together, shared some toys, and shared some play time. They reached the 14 day max stay at this campground one evening, and the camp host insisted that they move on that night. This turned into us helping them relocate their camp from this site in the city to a state park 14 miles down the highway in a rural area with no cell reception. The process of helping them pack their dirty, damp clothing, blankets, and belongings into trash bags felt very helpful but also intensely intrusive. I found myself wanting to be able to help more, beyond just sharing spaghetti and coloring books. I wondered if the most helpful thing would have been a set of suitcases that could have replaced all of the trash bags, but anytime I asked how I could help this new friend just asked if our girls could play together more. In the end we ended up helping in a few practical ways, like helping them haul all of their stuff to their new site that night, and buying them some headache medicine, some dinner, and an electric heater so that the youngest wouldn’t have to burn her foot on the propane one anymore. We passed down some markers and some warm sheets and some books. They never asked for anything, but their needs were obvious. I tried hard to keep myself from thinking of them as a charity case, and tried to just respond as I would to any of my friends who were in need of something that I had the ability to provide. But I think that perhaps the most meaningful thing was just spending time together and forming a relationship. One afternoon I drove the mother around town, trying to find a pharmacy where she could fill a perspripction for her duaghter’s ear infection. She told me stories of her life and borrowed my phone to make a couple of calls. At one point she told us, “Thank you for being so kind to us. You just wouldn’t believe some of the people that we have interacted with in the last year, and it’s just great to meet nice people.”
I hope that we made a small difference in their lives, even if it was temporary…maybe added a little bit of comfort in the form of warmth, entertainment, food. But I know without a doubt that they made a lasting difference my life. I was boldly confronted with my biases toward people who can fall under the category “homeless”, which if that means living in your car or tent then I can relate much more than ever before. It was striking how very subtle differences in our stories and support system could make the label of “homeless” seem to fit this small family living in a tent, while living in a campground is an exciting privilege for our family. We have the power of choice in the matter and a steady income, but otherwise our lives have a lot of similarities. Once I had placed this “homeless” label on them in my mind, it came with a whole set of ugly biases that continued to confront me during our few days together. At dinner in our trailer one night, her daughter dropped a blueberry off her pancake onto our floor and the mother responded, “Pick that up quickly before it stains!” My inner reaction was to be impressed that a ‘homeless person’ would be so concerned with cleanliness or social politeness. I’m embarrassed to realize and admit my lowered expectations of their behavior and intelligence once we thought of them as homeless, and these shocking glimpses into my unfair biases will affect with me for a long time. We only spent a few days with them, but I’ll be forever grateful for how much they’ve challenged me to root out my prejudices and expand my views.
On Wednesday morning about 10am we pulled out of our campground. As we drove onto I-5 we could see the repair shop where our cancelled appointment had originally been scheduled for that very morning. As we accelerated to get on the interstate toward our next destination, the truck made a happy little DING sound. “Wiring fault on trailer” appeared on the dash.