Monday, August 17, 2009

Santa Maria, California

I didn't know, until I met Dennis, that you could grow organic vegetables inside a small, ancient, crowded RV.

"These here are my sprouts," he showed me. "And here is some kale. And here," he pulled a Tupperware container from somewhere deep in the dense interior, "just take a look at these." He handed the bowl to me, and I looked down at an orgy of naked, thread-tailed, perfectly fresh beans.

Scraggle-bearded, tanned, lean in short-shorts and rough hiking boots, Dennis is someone I'd just met at a gas station where our two rigs had nearly collided. I'd gotten out and apologized, and he'd tilted his bleached head of hair toward me.

"You're not from around here, are you?" he said. "You're too nice. I can tell from your accent you've spent time in the South. Texas, my bet."

"How'd you know?"

"I can pretty much place any accent, I get around the world so much."

Dennis travels and lives in his battered camper with his surfboards on top, his bike suspended on the back and ladders hung from both sides. Also with a big, yellow, part-wolf, part-Akita named Suki in the cab. Inside his mobile home is his store of vegetables and jewelry. When I told him I was a writer, he told me he was at work on a book about "how to practice organic methods whether on the road or at home," and as we walked our dogs around the littered margins of the fuel pumps he added that he'd just come from three months of very helpful meditational studies down at the Agape Church in Los Angeles.

"I had to. To clear my head. You wouldn't believe how bad it's gotten. That's how I knew you were from out of state. People here are so angry. They spend too much time stuck in traffic, and fighting over the things that are disappearing. What I want is to teach people how to live simply and be at peace. We're going through a dangerously transitional time in this world, and we need to learn to love each other again."

As our dogs stepped gingerly over the tossed Doritos bags and trashed grass, I couldn't deny it.

For fifteen years, Dennis told me, he's been supporting his simple lifestyle by selling jewelry. Every year he makes a pilgrimage to Tucson to the trade show there, and stocks up on, as his card reads, "Natural Stone Bracelets, Hearts and Beads, Amber Necklaces, Pendants from Europe, Coral and Turquoise Nuggets, and Hemp, Coco and Puka Shell" classics. Then he drives up and down the coast selling his wares to surf shops, boutiques, and metaphysical dens.

"I used to make $2,000 a week. Now it's down to $600. People don't necessarily need crystals. Jewelry is a luxury. It's not like enchiladas or tacos."

I asked him if he was happy, and he admitted he had his moments, that it was all hard work. But life was still good. He began every morning surfing. Then, at mid-day, after making a few sales, he went swimming. He'd been on the road for so long he knew every public swimming pool between Santa Barbara and Half Moon Bay.

"And today is like that?" I asked him.

He nodded, and showed me his list of appointments. Then he looked down at his watch, and excused himself and his dog, because they had to get moving. He had to get to San Luis Obispo; the swimming pool there opened at one o'clock. Before he left, he wrote his website down for me, where he told me I could find his delicious recipes for simple, affordable, organic foods. You can read more about Dennis' beans and cookies at:


Photo by Bruce Barone

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