This is It

Posted on: January 27, 2015

                                                                            continued from “West

The RV made it to Austin before it died, without fanfare, in the night. Dena and Chris didn't hear it breathe its last mechanical breath. It just refused to start when they woke in the morning, foiling their intention to check out of the Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Park.

"I didn't even know she was going," Chris said, struggling to open the hood of the giant camper.

"So she's a she, now?" Dena asked with an eye roll.

"It's probably the transmission," Chris said.

He doesn't know a damn thing about transmissions. He doesn't even know the difference between regular gasoline and diesel.

"Okay," Dena said.

"I'll fix it," Chris said. "Go find us muffins?"

The Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Park was five miles from downtown. Dena shuffled out to the main road. She shifted her weight on one leg, thrust her hip out, and extended a thumbs-up to the passing traffic.

Is this how you hitchhike? Shit. I'm as much of a poser as everyone else.

After ten minutes of cars zooming past without stopping, Dena started walking. She Google-mapped the nearest bus stop. This is how it goes, now. Forget everything you've seen in the movies.

When the bus arrived, she boarded and made her way to the back. She slumped onto the last row of seats, avoiding an old woman with a bloom of grocery bags and a hipster with a baby strapped to his chest. The baby looked at Dena with big, sparkling eyes, but didn't wail.

At the next stop, a girl got on. She looked maybe nineteen, twenty at the most, and wore a work jumpsuit with LeeAnn stitched over the breast pocket. Her boots were enormous and caked with dirt and grease. Her hair had been dyed black, then grown out, and then the roots re-dyed camellia pink.

After her short-lived hitchhiking experiment, Dena was now sure that nothing happened unless you made first contact.

"Hey," she said to the girl, presumably LeeAnn, "Are you a mechanic?"

"Learning to be," the girl said. "Please don't tell me how badass that is. I already know." She rolled her eyes and lit a cigarette.

The hipster's baby began to scream.

“Shh, shh, Reagan,” the hipster crooned.

"Hey! No smoking on my bus!" the driver yelled.

"Whatever," LeeAnn muttered. She extinguished the cigarette on the dingy vinyl of the bus seat. It burned a glowing circle, which then blackened.

"Do you know anything about RV's?" Dena asked. She extended her hand. "I'm Dena."


Dena's eyes drifted to the girl's name tag.

"Hand-me-down uniform."


"So you've got an RV? What are you, eighty-five?"

"Something like that," Dena said.

She felt a jolt of realization that the RV, as much as she hated it, was the sum total of all she had in the world. She and Chris had sold everything to buy it, and now it was dead. The RV was her family inheritance, her car, her favorite vintage clothes she'd consigned at a loss. The RV was the re-fashioned, welded-together, Frankenstein’s-monster version of her life.

"It's at the RV Park a couple of miles back,” Dena said. “Won’t start. Any chance you could look at it today? Or know somebody who could?"

"I'm going to class now. I'm done at noon if you want to wait around downtown until then. You can pay, right?"

Dena promised she could.

They got off downtown, where Jennifer left her at a Starbucks. They exchanged numbers.

"I'll text you when I'm leaving class," Jennifer said.

Dena stood outside the Starbucks, watching Jennifer go. She walked with such purpose. Her bag of tools bounced against her leg as she moved. Her steel-toed boots clomped through the morning shadows of tree branches on the sidewalk. She was a rough goddess of Austin.

Dena's phone buzzed. It was a text from Chris: Muffinz? and a cat emoji.

This is my life, Dena thought.

No muffins. Mechanics, she texted. Back this afternoon.

Sad cat emoji.

Whatever. Dena pushed open the door to the Starbucks, where the burnt stench of bad coffee assaulted her. It was still early, and the line of people wound through the store, circling cutesy displays of seasonal beans and Keep Austin Weird coffee mugs.

She ordered a grande chai tea and barely flinched when her cup arrived with her name spelled "Dean."

It made her want to find some boots like Jennifer's. Who wears the pants, now?

"Is that the Oprah Chai?" a guy in a beanie asked her as she plopped down in a faux-leather chair.

Hipsters. Who wears a knit hat in Texas summer?


"The Oprah Chai. There's Tazo and Oprah. I want to try Oprah, but I kind of don't, you know?"

"Oh. I don't know. I don't think it's Oprah."

"Gotcha. Where you from? I’ve never seen you around here before."


If this guy’s going to hit on me, he could have at least bought my tea.

"Do you go to UT?"

“I graduated from college already.”

“Cool, cool. So what brings you to Austin?”

“Well, my dad died and now I’m an orphan, so I sold all my shit and bought an RV, and now the RV’s broken down, and I’m stuck here until the stranger I met on the bus gets out of mechanic-class.”


“You asked.”

“Well, good luck with all that. I gotta—“

“See ya.”

She watched his beanie-clad head pass out of the doorframe as Jennifer’s hot pink roots entered it.

“My whole class is like, in love with you now,” she said. “You got us a field trip.”


Chris stood on the sidelines, useless, as the head mechanic and his gaggle of protégés peered under the hood of the Chinook. Dena was there in the thick of them, handing Jennifer tools when she asked.

Jennifer’s whole class was women, all dressed in their matching jumpsuits.

“I know the whole point of fixing this is so you can go, but you should stay and come to the shop sometime,” a blonde named Shelly (nametag: Bridget) said.

“We’re going out West,” Chris said, knitting his eyebrows.

Dena watched the smudged, engaged faces of the women as they tightened valves and checked fluids.

She couldn’t remember the last time her life felt real.

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news,” Jennifer’s instructor said, slamming the hood. “The bad news is, it’s the fuel pump. The good news is, a part replacement on this baby is so outrageous that it would be cruel to charge you for the diagnosis.”

Dena looked at the grimaces on the faces of the mechanics, whom she was beginning to think of as friends. She looked at the hulking RV, her worthless everything. She looked at Chris, playing Candy Crush on his phone. This was it.

“Shit,” she said. “Should I order pizza?”

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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