By 11am it’s 90 degrees out and it’s only the beginning of April. The flies have come back, so you either don’t leave your door wide open or carry a swatter around at all times. I’m lucky to make $40 in tips these days and it seems like there are more screwballs than ever. This is Quartzsite, AZ after the busy winter season…..and I think it’s about time for me to move on.
For the months of September and October I traveled from Montana to the northern panhandle of Idaho and spent a couple of weeks in that beautiful dream of a landscape (making sure to stop at Glacier National Park before leaving MT). Then I hightailed it from north Idaho to eastern Nebraska and my hometown of Omaha, for a visit and bask in the yesteryear (also making a trip by car to Chicago for a week). And finally, as promised unofficially to myself and the fine people of the southwest, I came back to wonderful Quartzsite, Arizona for another insanely lucrative winter season.
Fort Benton, Montana. Barely over two square miles. Population 1,500. Semi-arid climate. This is where I spent my summer, working for the Bureau of Land Management.
I left California and the equestrian show park in late May to start a job with the government in north-central Montana for the summer. I passed through Yellowstone National Park but didn’t stay long since I needed to get to my destination to start work. These are photos from the four day drive.
Leaving the southwest was hard. Leaving northern California was EXCRUCIATING. For two months I worked at Brookside Equestrian Park, just south of Sacramento in a rural suburb called Elk Grove. It was the most laborious and demanding work I’ve done yet, but I had the time of my life. I didn’t get out of the park much because of the long workdays. I went to downtown Sacramento once right after I got there, the Folsom area on Easter Sunday, and a 3 day trip to San Francisco right before I left. However, I didn’t need to go out: I had an immediate built-in friend network at Brookside. The employees welcomed me like I was already an established buddy. Right away they were quick to want to learn about me, help me in any way they could, make sure that I was eating enough (breaks during a 14 hour shift were few and far between), and let me know that I was appreciated.
When I first arrived at the park I was morose. I had just come from the most enlightened place on Earth, Slab City, and I was missing friends in the southwest. I knew that one of my co-workers from Quartzsite had started working at the park just days before I got there and my boss told me I would be at a site with hookups in front of him, which just happened to be the very back of the park nestled in shade and unbothered by horses and horse people for the majority of the time. That made me feel a little better after learning that I wouldn’t have a sewer hookup or wifi directly to my RV spot, nowhere in the park did. Then the reality of the amount of tips I would be making came about: nowhere NEAR what I was making in the Q. After working a couple of shows I realized that most of these people are middle-upper class white women on their off time who do a lot of their own labor and never carry ID’s or cash with them. Also the management doesn’t have a really solid thought out process for the tab system they use. No matter. No matter the tips, the hauling a honeywagon on wheels to the dump (probably the most unglamorous chore you can think of doing every week), the limited access to internet, the mosquitoes, or the 10-14 hour hectic workdays. I started having a blast with these people!
I worked with the raddest Mexican ladies I’ve ever met in my life. These women do everything in their household and still work 14 hour days, it’s crazy. I’ll never again complain about any aspect of my life after experiencing what they do on the daily, 365 a year, and with the most beautiful smiling eyes. They are seriously the most humble and hardworking people I have met. Californians tend to have the work ethic of a lame horse so its no surprise these ladies picked up the slack.
I sat under the western night sky and watched a total lunar eclipse, caught a bird’s mating dance, and learned what it feels like to be stepped on by a horse. I made the kind of friends you go back to five years later and groove with like you had only left yesterday. I soaked up west coast rays like it would be my last time underneath that sun. For this short ramble, I was pure Californian.