THE PITFALLS OF AN INTERNATIONAL TIN-CAN ROMANCE

HOW ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN AND TWO TRAILERS, SEPARATED BY GEOGRAPHY AND RED TAPE, FOUND EACH OTHER.

(Originally published in ROVA Magazine, Adventure Five, Winter 2017)

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How about this idea for a first date: four months in two 12' X 7' boxes traveling the USA?

Insane? Absolutely. That is what myself and a lovely little lady, who happened to share my love of the crazy nomadic lifestyle, dived into. One hundred and twenty days of vintage trailer romance.

First, an introduction to the hubcap of my rim. Eileen (also known as Wink) Ricigliano has lived and traveled in her Santa Fe-inspired 1970 Roadrunner for the last two years. Wink's looks are unique and undeniably stunning, with a mix of Italian and Armenian heritage. On top of that, she's a supremely talented creator - in multiple mediums - and chooses to make her living as a silversmith... working the metal out of her trailer. How cool is that?

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This fairytale opens the very month I took the plunge and began living in my 1970 trailer. I searched a few hashtags, happened upon Wink's Instagram account, saw her trailer and immediately commented, "Love the paint job, is it custom?" A few comments flew back and forth, which led to emails about all things trailers. Wink quickly became my mentor, doing everything she could to prep me for life on wheels: she taught me to make sure to keep your bearings greased; how to stay safe while sleeping in a Walmart parking lot; and how to do dishes on a picnic table, wearing that most fetching of campers' accessories - a headlamp. I found the information valuable, but it was hard to concentrate given the massive crush I had on my teacher.

Months later, we found ourselves in a texting marathon, and that was it. The chemistry was palpable, and my crush turned into a connection. Wink was easily the warmest, most loving, most free-spirited human who'd ever crossed my path. And her humor! I think that we, as a society, often write "LOL" with a straight face, but this gal had me LMFAOing every other time my phone lit up with her words. Mega swoon. The conversations only heated up from there, and there was zero doubt that we had to meet. There was one caveat, however: being Canadian, I could only spend six months in the United States, and the first two were already planned out. We made a plan to spend four months together.

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My first two months in the US were long and slow. But then, on December 31st, the seemingly endless wait was over, and I found myself pulling into camp in San Antonio with the feeling that I was about to meet a human who would drastically affect the route that my life would take. With my heart in my throat, I pulled into the campsite we had chosen for our rendezvous. She was already there, trailer unhitched, and I grabbed her and kissed her before ever even hearing her voice (which, by the way, is so cutely accented - a New Jersey color to it). The fireworks had been scheduled for that that evening, but for us, they arrived a little early.

We got to know each other over a drink, and we made out way down to the lake for cuddles under some blankets as the sky filled with colored bursts of fire and thunder. After months of getting closer despite being apart, our bodies were finally touching. It was quick, but it was sure - there was no doubt that our connection had turned into that most sought-after of feelings: love.

After writing that, I am a little lost for further words. In my opinion, never has there been a more romantic first meeting. I can hardly believe it happened.

*Pinch* - it did. We were off to the races: four months of Wink and I sharing a space little bigger than a shoebox. How does one do this? And with a near stranger, no less? With all of the feelings of connection aside, a lot of it comes down to the fact that we were both people who live this lifestyle. We're both used to being dirty, peeing in the woods, eating college-style meals, and begging and borrowing for almost everything. The road opens folks up - the world becomes friendlier and more inviting - so we easily settled into coexistence. At the time when people asked me what it was like, I would brag that I had upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment.

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All of that being said, road life was now different, and it was most certainly for the better. The best, even. You know how I mentioned eating like a college kid? A regular meal for me on the road alone is rice cakes and (maybe, if I'm lucky) peanut butter. However, while living with Wink, dinner become a sacred time for us to work together, then converse over our bounty. And we used plates! Wink wore mascara and shaved her legs. I kept my beard trimmed and wore deodorant. It's fun to roll around and be a dirty nomad, but it gives you the warm and cozies to have a mate to balance it out - to keep your homelessness in check. We elevated each other, and that type of human connection is priceless.

We changed campsites regularly at first, our colorful convoy slowing fellow interstate drives who waved, honked and quickly snapped photos as we paraded on by. We started off bouncing around Texas, and eventually made our way through Arkansas and Alabama, and wound up in Tennessee, where we fancied ourselves Nashvillians for a couple of months. Looking back, it was funny - two northerners living in the deep south, doing our very best to blend in. Try as we might, Wink ordering a "cuppa cawfee" and my constant "eh"s (it isn't just a stereotype) made us stick out as much as our retro, colorcul trailers among our modern, beige neighbors. Being such fish out of water was a constant source of giggles, and just helped us to strengthen our bond.

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When I looked into those giant green eyes, time would stop. If I close my eyes in moments of nostalgia, I still feel like I am there, sitting in our lawn chairs. But in actual fact, that bastard time evaporated like a puddle in the desert. The pitfalls of an international relationship showed themselves, as we knew they would, and yet it still felt like a surprise. The hitch-up on our last day was the hardest of my entire life. As my SUV sank with the weight of my trailer, so did my heart. The waterworks began, and our little campsite became the world. There is no chance that I'll ever forget that goodbye. With our cheeks covered in tears, we whispered, "You're my favorite human," and "You're my favorite human."

I left Wink in my review mirror, and I still constantly look back. My GPS was set to the true Canadian north - The Yukon - while Wink steered her wheels to the Garden State. One month after our last kiss, we had transitioned from living within 10 feet of each other at all times, to having 6,000 kilometers between us. The magic of our first night together was out of this world, but equal and opposite reactions meant that our forced separation was like a punch in the guts.

As I write this, we are both on our own journeys, divided by a border and miles of road and red tape. It's heartbreaking to think that our countdown to being together has been reset to months, but we can use the space between us as a motivator to figure out how to break down the roadblocks for our future adventures. I might currently be sitting on a mountain in the Yukon, but my mind is in the Tennessee heat, staring into those massive emeralds, and asking with a laugh, "Who lives like this?" Us. We do, and for a blip in time, we did it together.

I love you, Wink. My road is leading back to you.

Written by Reggie Grey - Edited by Gemma Peckham

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