The Help Equation Sep07


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The Help Equation

IMG_2239The Calgary Stampede was magical like Yellowstone, but obviously in a very different way. Chuck Wagons thundered around the arena, pianos drifted down out of rain clouds and mechanical horses danced in mid-air. PURE MAGIC! The crowds of people at every turn were a little daunting for me, especially with my touch of claustrophobia, but I was empowered by my cowgirl hat. Nearly EVERYONE wore a hat. We all drank Jack Daniels out of a can, ate tiny donuts and had our pants wowed off by the feats of animals, people and fireworks alike. I belonged to EVERYONE that day.

The whole experience more than lived up to it’s tagline, “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth”. Two minute synopsis video from Calgary Stampede 2014:

YOU MUST GO THERE! Take your kids. It’s a priceless experience.

But despite that one big day of belonging, I was way past being ready to be back in my own country. All of the people we met or needed to talk to had been incredibly nice and English was the language of all the provinces we’d visited so far, but I still carried around this weird feeling for the two weeks we were there. I was definitely tired of loonies and toonies, of converting to kilometers to figure out how much longer our drives were and gas being close to $5 per gallon, but Canada isn’t really that different from the US. I can’t root the feeling to anything specific, I can only say it was a sense of not-homeness.

Now that may seem hysterical given the fact that Ali and I had had no home in the typical sense for the last five months and I go to Canada and suddenly feel “not at home”. Maybe that was exactly why I felt it though. Because, even though we’d been wandering the United States just as homeless-ly as we did Canada, we still had our COUNTRY. We are undeniably Americans – and all the good and bad that goes with that. We belong! So when the Customs Agent at the border to Montana said, “Welcome home” it washed over me like a warm shower of comfort.

Speaking of showers, we’d been so spoiled at the Worldmark with all it’s amenities that there was a little adjustment time ahead of us now that we were back in the RV. It’s always a good feeling to return to our space, our bed, with our stuff, but like any other diet, the space diet requires some effort. Our drawers and closet were over-flowing with all our clean clothes and the food hadn’t quite made it back into the perfect puzzle of tightness in the fridge or the cabinets so we rattled along as we’d made the long drive from Canmore to Glacier National Park in Montana.


We’d certainly been impressed with the Canadian side of this mountain range and the Montana side was no less spectacular. We pulled in to the enormous KOA campground in St. Mary and joined one of the many rows of RV’s, roofs glinting in the sunlight under the snow-capped peaks of East Glacier. It was late afternoon, and the sun was still hot enough that we thought we’d put out our awning to make it comfortable for outside cocktail-and-beauty drinking, but it got stuck on one side when I tried to pull it down.

Nothing ever happens in a campground that is truly private. Most often in fact, you and whatever you are doing, are on full display to several onlookers. We call it the RV Show and watch it religiously out our window or from our camp chairs. However, we ourselves, are frequent characters in the show and that day we were starring in the episode called “Step Off My Awning Dude”. But it all has to start with the Help Equation.

The Help Equation:     ru + (dying²) / ego = help

Where r is the number of audible requests that were directed at you specifically, multiplied by u, the urgency in the voice, plus any threat to life squared. Divide that by the size of the ego of the target and you get the amount of help you should provide. It’s hard to find any real fault in help, but I’m just saying – if r is zero, tread lightly unless your target is somewhere on the scale of dying.

To many men over 16, my gender alone implies to them that I am weaker, less mechanically inclined and predisposed to need help with anything related to fixing a car or a machine. Change that to cooking and they’ll mostly think I’m fine on my own, unless one of my kitchen appliances starts acting up. Then my assumed mechanical disability comes back into play and boom, likely to need help again. I am actually very mechanically-minded and I tend to prefer spending some time on my own trying to figure out how to fix a thing. I’m not going to try to change out my transmission or anything. I know my limits.

So the awning was stuck on the one side when I tried to pull it down that night we arrived in Glacier Montana. I’d done everything correctly, it just needed a good hard yank to unjam one of the metal arms. It’s happened before. I called Ali out and after we’d both yanked on it experimentally, a man my age jogged over to us and asked if we needed help. I told him that the one side was just jammed, but for good measure he first delivered an Awning 101 lecture, checking to make sure we’d done all the steps correctly. Then he yanked the hell out of the metal arm and freed it with a loud bang. We thanked him, but before he moved on he said, “So, do you know how everything else works?”

Ugh. Holy Ugh. Listen dude, my r was zero, u was zero, I wasn’t dying and I have a pretty healthy ego. AND our problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge of how things work – something was jammed. I just have to UGH again. I know his wife probably sent him over, because 2 women typically wouldn’t be doing all the outdoor stuff. Women usually just do the cooking and cleaning part in the RV world. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the help, he definitely delivered on plain old cocky muscle while our female minds were approaching the problem a little more intellectually. We were evaluating the nature of the jam and deciding how and where to apply our muscle specifically. Perhaps a lift and yank closer to the top, we thought. He came over and used brute force with no fear of breaking anything, then practically drawled a “There you go little ladies.”


It got me to thinking about how most of us bristle at the implication that we are somehow less than capable, especially when WE know we’re not. Some of us struggle to accept help even when it’s needed and some of us aren’t very good at giving help graciously, but in the end it doesn’t really matter which gender is doing the implying or the bristling. It’s a basic human thing – we all want to be, feel and look, competent. I think that’s the biggest fear that paralyzes people from going out to get a new job, or moving to a new country, or any big change really – the loss of competence, temporary though it usually is.

It’s safer for your ego to stay in the place where you really know how shit works. I didn’t fully realize how big that element would be when we decided to take this trip. Ali and I left the worlds where we were, felt and looked extremely capable and now we’re out here having new adventures in this moderately tricky machine. We’re trying new things daily, and subjecting our egos to that constant pin-pricking and occasional sledge hammer of not knowing how everything works.

Some days it has definitely felt like a see-saw, us teetering up in the air wiggling around just to stay on the seat, while competence totters like a two-ton gorilla, butt planted firmly in the dirt smiling up at us. But as time and experience has built up, we’ve been able to find the balance more often and get that “wheee” feeling of coming down and seeing eye to eye with our daily life challenges.

Despite the days we do something wrong, get poopy water sprayed in our faces, or just plain feel stupid, I’m enjoying this see-saw – because this is active living and it involves risk, the risk of looking foolish, while chasing a new experience. We’re still less than experts about all kinds of things, but we know how the frickin’ awning works! Thank you very much!

Glacier photos to follow.