Tonight, as I walked home along the coast, sucking in the delicious seaside air I noticed a number of #vanlife vans around town. Parked near where I had dinner, along the shoreline and two parked in Ocean Grove just on the other side of the old Asbury Park Casino. In front of one of the rigs, two men were talking with large Starbucks cups in hand. I couldn’t help but slow down, to attempt to glimpse inside the dimly lit dodge, a 3500, larger than mine with more vents and contraptions. I was trying to surmise just what was inside.
Being the friendly gal that I am, I stopped, and asked, “Are these your rigs? Are you vanlifers?” They looked at me suspiciously, waiting to figure out what my angle is. Neither said much. I was invading their sacred turf. I smiled, and eased in closer, “I have a Dodge too, I live in it full time.”
Both men beamed, “REALLY?”
“Yes.” I extended my hand, “I’m Elissa Jane.”
“I’m Donny, and this is… ” the older man looks over at his compadre on the boardwalk.
“Kenny, my name is Kenny,” and he shook my hand.
Each had questions for me, like, where am I from? How did I get from Colorado to Ocean Grove? What is my plan? And we talked about pot, as many like to once I tell them I live in Colorado. We moved through dialogue, more and more immersed in each other’s stories. We discussed our love for parking next to somewhere beautiful, how often we take our vans out, and they were curious how do I heat my van when it’s cold? They were intrigued by my story, as I was with each of theirs.
Three strangers, with nothing in common other than the fact that each of us has a converted van we travel around in. We relished the fact that we had this commonality. We didn’t deter from our conversation, even when it began to drizzle and spit rain in the spring evening air. The conversation continued to flow.
We got into a deep engagement about how people are plugged in, the cell phones. We rapped about the lack of intimacy in today’s world, and how we are all suffering.
The conversation shifted, they were still trying to ascertain how a Colorado gal, walking on the boardwalk on a misty Wednesday night, had landed in the small town of Ocean Grove. I explained that my friend Carla introduced me to the town, and that we come here year after year with our kids and I knew I needed to return before embarking on my full time van-a-venture.
As it always does, somehow, I started talking about honey and the merits of local honey. Donny told us all about a friend of his with thirty-five hives. He was descriptive, talking about how his friend wants to process the most pure honey, no heat, hand filters his honey and processes everything with equipment he built himself in his garage. This is where he transitioned to the sweetest tale. And it went, something like this….
Donny prefaced the tale with, “I know I’m weird, and you might not believe me, but flies just land on my finger and let me hold them. I pet their wings, and take care of them and then they fly away.”
Both Kenny and I became riveted as he continued on.
“I have a storage unit, you know, where I keep some things. One night, in November, I was in there doing something, and I noticed a wasp. He seemed out of place, still alive but flustered. I was like, ‘how the heck did this wasp get in here?’ Something was very strange. I leaned over and picked it up. The wasp stuck his bum out to sting me, but then didn’t. He let me hold him. So I fed him some honey. He hate the honey right off my finger. He seemed so happy.
Each night, I put on a space heater for the wasp, just on low, so it would have a warm place to rest. I came back pretty regularly to check on him. I’d feed him, make sure the heater was still on and hold him for a bit. It was so nice, it was like he knew me and was happy to see me.
Then one night in February, I came back to see him, and he was gone. It was so sad. A rodent must have eaten him.”
A small tear came to the smiling man’s face, “it meant so much to me that I could care for this wasp. He had nowhere to go and I didn’t want to put him outside in the winter cold.”
“Wow,” I said, “what an incredibly compassionate person you are to recognize that the wasp was as valuable as any other sentient being.”
We talked a little more, and got some clarifying questions answered. Then Kenny asked, “So, you gonna tell us the bee’s name?”
Donny laughed and said, “of course, yes, you got me, of course I named the wasp. His name was Beewee, B-e-e-w-e-e.”
Of course, it was.
We realized we had been chatting a while, it was late and each of us had somewhere to go I suppose. Kenny was headed back to the city. Donny was headed home somewhere and I headed back down the misty boardwalk towards my beach rental cottage on Embury Street.