Tag Archives: homeless

The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van

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I wrote this post before The Man and I ended up with a travel trailer and a truck to tow it. If I were single, I’d still be in a van.

I’m a van gal. I bought my first van (with the not-very-nice fellow who is now my ex) almost a decade ago. We upgraded to a newer, better van several months later. We spent two whirlwind years traveling across the country visiting cities, public lands, and music festivals. When I finally left that guy behind, I was homeless for a few months until, with the help of friends, I was able to buy a Chevy G20 of my own and return to van life.

During my time as a vandweller, people have suggested I “upgrade,” especially after The Man and I got together. Yes, we would have more room in a school bus, a travel trailer we could pull behind a vehicle, or a small motorhome. However, what we’d have to sacrifice in exchange for a bit more room isn’t worth it to me. Today I’ll share what I see as the advantages of living and traveling in a van.

Winding mountain road
I was able to navigate this mountain road with my Chevy G20 van.

#1 I can navigate most any paved road (and lots of dirt roads too).  During the second year I worked in the mountains of California, the camp hosts down the road lived in a converted school bus. Halfway through the work season, a wildfire was near, and two of the three roads off the mountain were closed. The bus couple worried about how they would get their rig off the mountain if we were required to evacuate. The one open road was narrow and curvy, and they weren’t sure the bus would make it around the tight turns. I had no such concerns. I’d driven my van up and down all three of those mountain roads and knew it could make it down (and back up again when it was safe to do so) with no problems.

I’ve driven conversion vans from California to North Carolina, Kansas to Minnesota, Maine to Georgia (with lots of crisscrossing the middle of the Unite States), and I’ve never been on a paved road I thought I might not be able to navigate.  Sure there are dirt roads that have caused me concern. I’ve been on  dirt roads I had no business taking my van on, and I’ve been prepared to turn around if necessary. Anybody traveling in a rig without four wheel drive is going to run into the same trouble on some dirt roads, but my van can get around in places where bigger rigs can’t.

#2 My van is (comparatively) easy to park. Granted, I’m not great at parallel parking (confession: I can’t really parallel park at all), but most bigger rigs wouldn’t even fit in a parallel parking spot. My van only takes up one space in any parking lot or residential street. Unless I’m in a busy downtown area where I need to squeeze into the only parallel parking space on the street, I don’t have a difficult time finding a place to leave my van.

Sometimes parking garages do pose a problem for my rig. More than once I’ve been at the entrance of a parking garage before I realized my van was too tall. While that’s a drawback to having a high top, I know anywhere I don’t fit can’t accommodate a school bus, motor home, or even a tall truck camper. My van can (and has) fit into some parking garages, but rigs taller than mine probably won’t have much parking garage luck.

The low-hanging branches in this campground worried some folks in big rigs.

#3 Not only does my van offer enough clearance to allow me to park in at least some parking garages, it affords me decent clearance in general. During my time as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I saw several drivers of motorhomes freak out about branches overhanging the road through the parking lot or above a campsite. One driver of an RV insisted on backing out of the one-way loop through the parking lot rather than continue through when he realized overhead branches were going to scrape the top of his rig. I suppose buses and tall motorhomes don’t utilize too many fast food drive-thrus. In my van, I don’t often have to worry about being too tall.

#4 Not only is my van (comparatively) easy to park, it’s also (comparatively) easy to back up. I didn’t get a lot of instruction on backing when I learned to drive late in life, but especially in the last few years, I’ve had quite a lot of practice. My van didn’t have a review mirror when I bought it, and the two back windows are blacked out, so I use my blind spot mirrors on the sides a LOT. (The Man opens the driver’s door and sticks his head out and looks behind him to aid his backing abilities when he’s driving my van.) I backed into a tree last summer, but other than that little incident, I’m doing fine (knock wood).

Once another vandweller and I were looking at a van that was longer than mine. I fretted that I would never be able to back up something so big. The other vandweller assured me that once I got a feel for the dimensions of any rig, backing up wouldn’t be a problem for me. He’s probably right, but I’d be terrified backing up a big rig while I was trying to learn its dimensions. Could I learn to back up a rig bigger than my van? I know I could, but I like knowing I can do a decent job backing up the van I already have.

Of course, if I pulled a travel trailer behind my van, backing up would pose a whole new set of problems. Could I learn  to back up a rig I was pulling behind my van? Again, I know that I could, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel the need to complicate my life with complex backing.

#5 If I need to stealth park, my van blends in. Let’s face it, a school bus is not going to blend in on a residential street, even if it’s still sporting the customary school bus orange. If it’s been repainted some cool new color, it’s really going to stand out wherever it’s parked. A small motorhome may fit in a little better, but most people who live in in a house or apartment don’t park their recreational vehicles on the street. An RV parked on the street may call a little too much attention to itself.

I don’t stealth park on residential streets a lot. If I have to be in civilization, I’d rather spend the night blacktop boondocking in the parking lot of a truck stop or a Wal-Mart. However, if the only place I can find to spend the night is a residential street, my van can slip in and look enough like a regular passenger vehicle so that no one suspect I’m sleeping in there.

All the campsites in this campground where covered with snow when The Man and I camped here in May 2017.

#6 Not only can I stealth park in the city in my rig, but I can fit in most any campsite with a parking spur. Yes, I have been to campgrounds with only walk-up tent sites. (I’m looking at you Big Tesuque!)  We were at that campground in the off-season when the entire campground was covered in snow, so we simply slept in the van in the parking lot. However, the majority of campgrounds I’ve been to have offered plenty of room to park my van on the campsites.

While I was a camp host, I saw many people with big rigs have a difficult time getting into the two smallest campgrounds on the mountain. People in big RVs often struggled to find a campsite large enough to accommodate their rigs. I’d rather travel in a small rig that allows me to take nearly any campsite available.

My van’s gas mileage is better than the gas mileage of a school bus.

#7 The Man would tell you my G20’s gas mileage stinks compared to what he gets in his minivan. He is right about that comparison, but my mileage is great compared to what rigs bigger than mine get. The Scientific America article “Teenager’s Invention Saves Fuel for School Buses” says that school “buses…only get 4 to 6 mpg.” I’m guessing a motorhome (depending on its size) gets the same sort of gas mileage or maybe a little better. That makes my 12 to 15 miles per gallon look pretty good. Of course, pulling a travel trailer would reduce my gas mileage even further.

Diesel costs more than gasoline.

At the time I’m writing this post (February 2019), diesel costs more than gasoline. Because my van runs on gasoline, I spend less on fuel than I would if I drove a bus with a diesel engine or a diesel truck I might need to haul a big fifth wheel. Also, I found out when I worked in the mountains, diesel is sometimes not available in remote locations, even when gasoline is.

#8 I’ve had some tire troubles in the past, but at least I only have four to deal with and not six. Not only do full size schoolies and some larger motorhomes have two extra tires to deal with, getting the best, strongest tires capable of handling the additional weight of bigger rigs costs a pretty penny. After reading a few articles about the cost of tires for school buses and Class A motorhomes, it seems a single tire suitable for one of these rigs can run anywhere from $100 (plus a charge for mounting) to $430, with one article estimating an upper range price of $600. Ouch!

Although I do have expensive, strong Michelin tires on my van, they’re in the under $200 (each) price range, and I’m glad to save the money two more would cost.

#9 Because my van is a regular passenger vehicle with a gasoline engine, I don’t have to find a special mechanic to work on it when I have problems. Just about any trained and competent mechanic can repair most any problem. As a bonus, The Man is able to do some of the repairs and maintenance my van has needed. He’s replaced my all of my brake pads and put in a new radiator when the old one sprung a leak.

I know folks with small motorhomes who’ve had trouble finding a mechanic with a shop big enough to accommodate their rigs. All of the vans I’ve owned, including the two with high tops, have fit in every shop they’ve been brought to.

#10 I don’t have to dump grey or black water tanks. Yes, it would be convenient to wash dishes or my hands in my van. Yes, it would be convenient to have a rig with a flush toilet. I’m sure I could learn how to dump grey and black water tanks, and with practice, dumping would become just another routine. However, at this point in my vanlife, I’m happy to be without the burden of staying aware of the levels in grey and black water tanks, finding dump stations, (possibly) paying to dump, then going through the smelly process. I’m content to wash my hands and the dishes outside and find a toilet whenever I have elimination needs. (Of course, I have a system in place for when I’m boondocking.) The lack of black and grey water tanks makes my life a little simpler.

I’m not trying to tell you what rig you should live in. I’m only telling you why I do what I do. By all means, make your own decisions based on what works best for you.

Suffering

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It doesn’t matter why we were in Fresno, CA at 9am on a Friday morning.

I was jacked up on coffee, it is true, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, but the sun was shining and the temperature had dropped on that first day of autumn.

I’d exited Highway 99 to get breakfast at Taco Bell and use the internet. When it was time to get back on the 99, we could see the highway, but due to the one-way street we were on, we couldn’t get directly to it. The Man was working with Google Maps to get us to our destination, and I found myself driving through an industrial part of the city that looked sketchy to my no-longer-accustomed-to-an-urban-environment eyes.

Make a left, The Man told me.

Here? I screeched. I could see railroad tracks, but no street.

Here, The Man confirmed, and I turned. There was a street there, narrow and running next to the tracks.

It wasn’t a place where I’d expect to see people walking around, so I noticed the woman near what appeared to be a warehouse. There was rubbish piled all over, and while the woman was standing, she seemed somehow hesitant, as if she’d stumble if she took a step. I didn’t get the impression she was drunk, but imagined she’d recently awaken and emerged from a nest in the trash. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake and still unsteady on her feet.

I glanced at her and made assumptions about her in a second or two while I was driving, then put my eyes back on the road. When I looked at her again, I realized something else.

She was an African-American woman, thin, wearing a red ball cap and a long red shirt, but I’m pretty sure she wan’t wearing pants. I didn’t see any private parts or underpants, and maybe she was wearing short shorts under he long red shirt, but I don’t think she had on pants or a skirt or any sort of bottoms.

Some people would make a joke here about a woman who forgot to put her pants on, but I didn’t see anything funny, only felt profound sadness.

After telling her about the woman, Nolagirl said in a text, She probably has some mental illness which makes it hard to remember you need pants. That’s probably true.

It shouldn’t happen to anyone—mentally ill, living on the streets, sleeping in a pile of trash, no pants or the recollection that pants are a necessity—but it’s not a way of life we associate with the developing world, not here in the good ol’ US of A.

I know people are homeless, I’ve seen them, and I’ve been one of them, but even I can be shocked when confronted. No wonder so many folks who’ve never lived on the streets can pretend it’s not happening in their country and can believe those homeless people are different, a foreign other.

In seconds, we had passed the woman. The Man never even saw her. Out of my sight isn’t out of my mind, though. The woman haunts me. I wish I could have done something for her, but what?

What could one stranger passing through, a stranger in her on edge-living situation really do to help? I suppose I could have given her a couple of bucks or a pair of pants, but would either of those things have really helped her? My tiny offerings would not have changed her life. Still, I feel as if I should have done something.

 

 

You Got Shoes to Wear

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Sometimes I see women in my age group who look homeless or at least very poor, and I think, That could be me. Sometimes I see women in my age group pushing overflowing shopping carts or riding bikes upon which recyclables have been fastened, and I think, That could be me. Sometimes I see women in my age group walking down the street talking to themselves (or to someone I can’t see), and I think, That could be me. I sometimes see women (in my age group or otherwise) flying a sign, and I think, That could be me.

I’m poor and I live in a van now, but I’ve been 100% homeless and there have been days when I’ve had zero money to my name. I’ve never pushed a shopping cart or tied my money-making enterprise to a bike, but I’ve walked through towns with all my earthly possessions in a ridiculously large pack strapped to my back. Sometimes I do talk aloud when no one else is around, until I catch myself doing it and close my mouth before a stranger labels me crazy. I’ve flown signs, panhandled, asked strangers for what I needed to survive. I could be those women I see because I have been their sister in poverty, a sister of the streets.

During a recent visit to San Francisco, I saw a couple of women and thought, That could be me.

I was walking down the sidewalk next to Mission Street, near the 16th Street BART station. Two women about my age were walking in front of me. Between them they were hauling a huge, red plaid, thick plastic tote bag, something probably designed to transport laundry into and out of the washateria. I didn’t see what was in the bag. I really wasn’t paying much attention to the women, even though they were yelling at each other. Then I looked over and noticed the woman on the left was wearing socks but no shoes. It startled me more than if she’d been barefoot.

Walking on a dirty city sidewalk in socks with no shoes really said living on the margins to me. Had she lost her shoes? How? Had they been stolen? Did she not have the few bucks to go into one of the several thrift stores on Mission Street and get a pair of shoes? Did she own shoes but for some reason I can’t fathom chose to only wear socks?

I could have asked her; she was right in front of me, but I didn’t want to be nosy. Her footwear (or lack thereof) was none of my business after all. I didn’t want her to think I was judging her (although I guess I was). I didn’t want to offend her. And while all of those reason for not talking to her were true, I also didn’t want to admit publicly or to myself that her situation could be my situation.

I feel like I’m doing ok right now. I’ve got my van. my little comforts, my small saving to get me through to my next job, and my seven pairs of shoes (which I know is a ridiculous number for a person living in a van to own.) But I know I’m one road disaster or health crisis away from being back to having nothing. I know friends would help me if they could, but things are rough all over.

I look at these women in my age group, women living on the margins of society as I am, and I think, That could be me, not with disdain, but with a little fear. Maybe some of those women are happy, and it’s not my place to assume they’re not. If they are happy, More power to you, sisters! But when I see women who don’t seem to be doing very well holding their day-to-day living together, I remember to be grateful for the shoes on my feet (and the extras stored away), my narrow bed, the roof of my van over my head.

Thanks to Robert Hunter for the title, a line from “Here Comes Sunshine.”

 

On Homelessness

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It happened again.

I was part of a small group sitting around a kitchen table, drinking tea and conversing. One woman was being quite difficult. She was older than I am by about 20 years and tried to dominate the conversation, no matter the topic. She tried to present herself as an authority on New Orleans because as a teenager, she’d lived for some time in a town 25 miles away. Even though I lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade and her feet hadn’t touched the city’s soil in over forty years, she wanted to present herself as the expert.

The five of us in the room talked about where we’d grown up. I talked about my job as a camp host. The difficult woman asked me, Where do you live now?

I  answered in a perfectly cheerful way, I live in my van.

I saw the panic on her face and heard it in her voice when she asked, But where do you live?

I said again, I live in my van, then went on to explain I don’t have a sticks and bricks house waiting anywhere for me.

I could tell she felt pity for me, which is not what I expected from her, since I knew she lives in a 5th wheel with multiple cats.

I think the woman was worried about me because she is worried about herself.

Later in the conversation around the table, the woman admitted she’s not entirely happy about living in the 5th wheel. She doesn’t see the 5th wheel or its current location as the home she wants for the rest of her life. She want’s something bigger, something “better,” something different. I suspect she wondered how I could be happy living in a van if she’s not quite happy where she lives.

As the five of us stood up to say good-bye before parting, the difficult woman singled me out and hurriedly told me in a voice barely above a whisper how some years back she lived in her car with her dog. I could tell this part of her history was not something she remembered fondly or spoke of proudly.

I assured her many people have lived or currently live in a vehicle. I wanted her to know that living in a vehicle is not as weird as she’d convinced herself it is.

I refuse to be ashamed for living in my van, I told her.

I hope she will let go of her shame too, because if isn’t doing her any good.

I told her I don’t know if I could ever go back to living in a conventional home, as I now find the thought of paying rent for a house or an apartment offensive.

Sometimes I’m glad I can be an example of a woman living a good life while housed in her van. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel as if I have to explain my existence to every curious or worried person who crosses my path. On the day with the difficult woman, I felt something in between. I hadn’t expected or wanted to talk with someone who was shocked by the way I live, but I did enjoy disabusing her of some of the notions she seemed to be holding about people who live in vehicles.

Picnic Pavilion

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When I was homeless, I lived in a picnic pavilion at a rest stop for two months. By lived in, I really mean slept in. The rest area attendant arrived at 8am, so I left well before he started work. I usually woke with the first light of the sun, rolled up my sleeping bag, put on my shoes, and walked out on a nearby trail. The trail went past a tree, all alone in the high desert. I usually stopped at the tree, rolled out my sleeping bag on the ground under its branches, took off my shoes again, and stretched out to nap for another couple of hours.

Not only did I not want the rest area attendant to find me, accuse me of living there, and call the cops, I didn’t want any civilian bystander to call the cops on me either. Best to not have anyone see me in the rest area during the day, which is why I left as soon as I had enough light to see the path.

I suppose I could have spent my nights under the tree, but I was afraid I’d encounter a rattlesnake or an unsavory human out there. I felt safer in the civilization of the rest area, with its lights and flush toilets. In retrospect, I don’t know how much safer I was in the rest area Babylon.

The rest area attendant got off work at 5pm. Sometime after that, I’d go to my “apartment,” the picnic pavilion which opened toward the natural attraction tourists came to see. The other pavilions opened toward the roadway running through the rest area. Anyone sleeping on the concrete floor of one of those pavilions would be easily spotted by cars driving through at night. Because my pavilion didn’t open toward the roadway, I could sleep between its low stone back wall and the back bench of the concrete picnic table, and no one driving through would see me.

affection, art, backlitThe rest area was open all night. People could go there to look at the natural attraction 24 hours a day, any day of the week. It wasn’t unusual for people to sleep there in their cars. Others pulled in to use the restrooms in the middle of the night. Sometimes people partied there, drinking alcohol and taking who-knows-what drugs. And I’m pretty sure couples came there to “smooch” (my euphemism for anything from making out to oral to full-on intercourse).

Lovers were attracted to “my” pavilion for the same reason I was: it offered just a little bit more privacy.

I never rolled out my sleeping bag before dark. I didn’t want to be spotted sleeping (translation: living) there. I’d read a borrowed book or a newspaper fished from a trashcan and wait for darkness to descend. Often, I’d simply look out at the spectacular view. Once it was adequately dark, I’d roll out my sleeping bag, position my backpack on the ground within arm’s reach, take off my shoes, and snuggle down for sleep. Once I lay down, I didn’t pop my head up to see what was going on, for fear someone would notice me and wonder what I was doing on the ground behind the picnic table.

I don’t know how late it was the first time a couple invaded my space. It was dark during a time when days were long, so it had to be after 9pm. I had been on the brink of sleep when the people sat on the picnic table. Of course, they didn’t know they’d invaded my space. I was so discreet, they hadn’t even realized I was there.

I didn’t know what to do. I’d heard from several single sign-flying and hitchhiking women that sometimes people worry about women in such situations and call the cops to do a welfare check. I didn’t want these people to call the cops because they were worried about me. I wasn’t running from the law, but I didn’t want to be hassled by the police, didn’t want to be told I couldn’t sleep at the rest area any longer or that I needed to move on out of town. Better not to interact with the cops at all.

I knew the longer I waited to say something to the couple, the more awkward it was going to be when they discovered me. (I never doubted one of them would notice me eventually.) I suppose I could have pretended to be asleep, but what if they started making noise impossible to sleep through? Then I’d have to “wake up,” and what if they had their clothes off?

So I sat up and said something like Hi. I’m just sleeping here. (I don’t remember my actual words, but I was trying to convey I’m harmless. I’m fine. I was here first.)

The woman screamed. It was a loud, piercing, blood-curdling scream. So much for discretion.

I started apologizing. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.

Then one of my worries came true. The woman started asking me if I was ok. Are you ok? she kept asking me.

I tried to assure her I was fine. I told her I was just sleeping. I told her everything was good.

Are you ok? Are you ok? she asked again and again.

I wanted to say, I was ok, before you woke me up. I was ok before you screamed. Instead I just assured her I was currently fine.

Finally they left. I don’t know where they went to have sex (maybe the car they’d arrived in?), but the cops didn’t bother me that night, so I guess I’d convinced them they didn’t need to worry about me.

The next time a couple tried to use my picnic pavilion for their shenanigans, it was truly the middle of the night, and at least the guy seemed drunk. When I sat up and told them I was sleeping there, neither of them seemed worried about me or upset in any way or even vaguely surprised. These people had obviously seen a lot in their lives.

I could tell they didn’t want to leave, but they also respected the fact that I’d gotten there first. So they left, but they didn’t go far. They simply walked out of the picnic pavilion and sat down on the ground right next its wall. I could hear every word they said! (If only I could remember their every word. If only I had taken notes.)

The woman (who seemed significantly younger than the man) talked and talked and talked, mostly about her unhappy life. (It’s just as well that I don’t remember the details. She probably wouldn’t want me to repeat her stories, although I wouldn’t feel too bad about doing so, since she knew I was right there the whole time.)

The man? Well, what he said (in drunken repetition) to the woman boiled down to this: I want to be your friend. But I also–if you would like–want to make love to you.

She didn’t fall for his line while within my hearing. Maybe she was hoping her litany of woes would cool his ardor. Maybe she simply needed someone to listen.

As for me, I was wishing I couldn’t hear them. I really just wanted to go to sleep, not listen to an unhappy woman and a horny man.

I thought about calling out, I can hear you!

I thought about calling out, Shut the fuck up! I’m trying to sleep!

In the end, I said nothing. I didn’t want an altercation, especially with someone who was drunk. I only wanted to sleep. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could sleep for a few more hours under my tree in the morning.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/affection-art-backlit-couple-556662/.

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Live in a Tent

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When I think back to the days when I was living in a tent (with the man who was my partner then), it seems as if we lived that way for a long time. However, when I do the calculations, I realize we only lived in that tent (the cheapest two-person tent Wal-Mart had) for a few months. Oh how the imagination stretches the unpleasant! I don’t want to go back to those days (for a lot of reasons), and I hope I never have to live in a tent again.

THE SET UP AND THE BREAKDOWM OF THE TENT WAS A PAIN IN THE ASS

Even after I’d grown accustomed to setting up the tent, it was never easy. It was always difficult to thread the poles through the pockets on the roof and sides. It was always difficult to poke the ends of the poles into the pockets on the ground. Every piece of the tent puzzle had to be in the right place at the right moment to make the whole thing work.

Taking it apart was easier, but it was such a struggle to get the tent folded correctly and small enough to get it into the carrying bag.

Setting up and breaking down the tent took time and energy. Neither was a fast process, even after I knew what I was doing. At the end of a long day, setting up the tent was the last thing I wanted to do. And forget about a quick get-away in the morning.

In my van, whenever I decide to park for the night, I can crawl into bed moments after I pull the key out of the ignition. In the morning, if I’ve taken nothing out of the van, I’m ready to go as soon as I get dressed and put on my shoes.

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE STEALTH IN A TENT IN A CITY?

I’m sure some people figure out how to be stealth in a tent in a populated area, especially if there’s a park with a woodsy area or a woodsy area on the edge of town. I only pulled off staying in a tent in a city once, with the help of some street kids who shared their camping squat on some undeveloped land quite a walk from the city center.

It’s easier to be stealth in my van, especially if I get into bed as soon as I park and don’t turn on any lights. A van will blend in with other parked cars, but outside of the woods, a tent is going to stand out.

THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH POROTECTION FROM THE COLD
Yes, sleeping in the tent kept me warmer than sleeping outside without a tent but warmer is not the same as comfortable. Most of the tent sleeping I did was in late spring and early summer. If the night were cold (and some of them were), I was cold in the tent.

Sleeping on the cold ground seemed to suck the heat out of me. Someone once told me that if one’s kidneys get cold, one’s blood gets cold, and then one has cold blood circulating throughout one’s body. Cold ground = cold kidneys = cold body. I suppose a good sleeping bag or an air mattress would have helped, but I had neither.

Unless the temperature dips into the 20s, I stay warm in my van. I have plenty of blankets and a propane heater I can turn on if I need to. A van is better insulated than a cheap Wal-Mart tent, so it stays warmer. My bed is raised, so I’m not losing my heat to the van’s cold metal floor.

THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH PROTECTION FROM THE RAIN EITHER

The Southeast in the springtime can see a lot of rain. The spring I was living in the tent saw a lot of rain. The tent was wet a lot. The seams started to leak. Water seeped in at the bottom edges. All of the stuff in the tent had to be piled in the middle to try to keep it dry. (Did I mention my partner and I had no motor vehicle, so there was nowhere to store our stuff other than the tent?) Sleeping bags and blankets got wet. There was nowhere to put our wet clothes to dry. It was a miserable time.

Fortunately, my van doesn’t leak. (I paused my writing to knock on wood.) The rain can come down (and down and down and down), and I stay dry. My stuff stays dry too. I can drape wet clothes around the van, and they’ll dry out eventually. My van is good protection from the elements.

THE GROUND TENDS TO BE BUMPY AND NOT REALLY FLAT

Outside of a campground (and sometimes in one too), it can be really difficult to find a clear, flat piece of earth on which to pitch a tent. If you’ve ever slept in a tent on an incline, you know it’s not really sleeping, as you’re fighting all night to hold your position and not end up pressed against the wall of the tent at the bottom of the slope. It’s also not easy to find a piece of ground that’s not littered with (sometimes seemingly invisible) rocks and sticks. You may not see rocks and sticks, but you’ll certainly feel them as soon as you lie down. If you’re in an area with a lot of trees, it may be impossible to get away from roots. Again, an air mattress or a good sleeping pad might help make sleeping on the ground more comfortable, but that’s a lot of stuff to haul around, especially if you’re carrying everything you own on your back.

In my van, I carry my comfy bed with me. I sleep on top of two layers of memory foam. This bed is more comfortable than several of the “real” beds I’ve slept on in houses. I never sleep on top of lumps and bumps. Sometimes, however, if I’m not careful about where I park, I do end up on an incline and wake up in the night in a scrunched-up woman heap with my head off the pillow and my feet pressed against the wall. Even when I wake up and realize I’ve made this sort of poor parking decision, it’s still better than sleeping on the cold, hard ground.

THERE WAS NEVER ENOUGH ROOM IN THE TENT

Two person tent + two people + two people’s stuff = never enough room

Neither of us could stand up in the tent. I often felt claustrophobic. It was not comfortable to have a friend hang out in the tent with us.

While I wouldn’t say my van is spacious, it is roomer than the tent. My van has a high top, so I can stand up. If I needed to, I could get two or three other people in the van with me for a short period of time. One person could probably spend a night on the van’s floor. There’s room for me to set up my stove so I can cook in the van if I need to, and there’s room to operate my Mr. Buddy heater safely.

THE TENT OFFERED ONLY MINIMAL PRIVACY

Sure, the tent kept people from seeing us naked, but that’s about it. Unless we whispered, anyone nearby could hear what we were saying. I suspect everyone probably knew when my partner and I were having sex too. If my partner and I were both in the tent, we had no privacy from each other.

Once I pull the curtains in my van, I feel I have a high degree of privacy. Oh sure, if this van’s a rockin’ is a real phenomenon, but at least no one’s going to hear every moan and sigh. If I were traveling with someone in my van, one of us could sit in the bed or in one of the front seats with the front or back curtain pulled while the other was in the main part of the van, and we wouldn’t have to look at each other.

THE TENT OFFERED LITTLE SECURITY

Are there tents that lock? I’ve never seen one. Anyone could unzip the tent flap, reach in, and grab whatever they wanted. I guess in campgrounds folks stash their valuables in their locked cars, but when one is carrying everything one owns, there is no place to lock anything away.

Tents offer even less security for my physical self. Is a tent going to stop a bear? No. Is a tent going to stop a murder or a rapist? No. (Not that I dwell on murderers or rapists, but the thought occurs to me.)

I feel very secure in my van. I can lock the doors when I leave and when I’m inside. As my dad says, a lock is to keep an honest man (or woman, Dad) honest. If someone with tools and know-how wanted to break into my van, it would probably be fairly easy. But I do feel like my stuff and I are safe when the doors are locked. (I paused to knock wood again.) While a bear might be able to peel off a door, at least a person with bad intentions is not going to be able to rip open the van’s metal roof.

Of course, I realize a different tent would have solved some of the problems I’ve outlined. A bigger tent could have helped with my space and privacy issues. A three-season tent would have kept me warmer. A better-made tent might not have leaked. A tent with a better design may have gone up and down more easily. But I don’t know how to solve stealth and security issues with a tent.

In any case, I’m so, so grateful for my van. It keeps me safe, dry, warm, and comfortable. (I’m knocking wood again.) I wouldn’t trade it for a six-person, three-season, easy-up, well-made tent with a lock and a top-of-the-line air mattress.

To read another story about tent living, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/23/hierarchy-homelessness/.

 

Bead Angel

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I was homeless, living in a picnic pavilion at a busy tourist area. (Read about how I got there here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/11/hummingbird/.)

I started earning a little money by making sage sticks to sell to tourists. To my surprise, people actually bought them. I took the money I earned and bought a couple of balls of hemp, some glass beads, a pair of scissors, and a tape measure. I made bracelets and necklaces from the hemp and beads, and to my surprise, people bought the jewelry too. In fact, I sold so many bracelets, I ran out of supplies to make more.

I hitchhiked into town early one morning. I walked through town to Stuff-Mart to get glass beads. The store was out of the jumbo pack of the beads with large holes that I wanted. Grrr! I found a smaller pack of beads with large holes, and while I wasn’t crazy about them, I decided they would do. I brought them up to the cash register. The cashier scanned them, and the register gave her some sort of message. She told me the beads had been recalled, and she couldn’t sell them to me.

I was furious and worried. I needed those beads. My livelihood literally depended on those beads.

I stalked out of Stuff-Mart and stomped down to the nearby thrift store, thinking maybe I’d find something there I could use. When I walked in, the women working there noticed my backpack and asked if I were a traveler. I said I was (which was close enough to what was going on with me) and then told them the saga of my day. I told them I sold jewelry to tourists at the Bridge and needed beads that Stuff-Mart didn’t have. I was the only customer in the store, and the ladies listened sympathetically to me.

One of the women said she had a bunch of beads her daughter-in-law had left behind when she moved out. She said she wasn’t going to use them, so she’d give them to me.

What an angel! What a miracle!

Several days later the Jewelry Lady picked up a big plastic container from the Bead Angel. At the Jewelry Lady’s casita, we sorted through the contents. In addition to glass and metal beads, we found many beautiful stones. There were large aventurine and turquoise teardrops, bars of snowflake obsidian for making bracelets, and an absolutely gorgeous piece of rainbow obsidian.

It was such a wonderful gift. Those nice stone beads helped me make necklaces for which I could ask higher prices. I was incredibly grateful

Hummingbird

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Content warning: This post mentions an abusive relationship.

I left a bad relationship by running away in the night. I walked and walked and walked, sleeping along the way on the doorstep of a church, in an abandoned house, in the driveway to a pasture in front of the gate, and in a wrecked car outside a closed auto repair shop. Although it was June, the altitude was high enough that it still got cold at night. I had nothing besides the clothes on my back, the glasses on my face, and my driver’s license and a broken headlamp in my pockets. Whenever the cold would wake me, I’d stand up and start walking again.

Sleeping in the car was a luxury. I could almost stretch out in the backseat, which was plush and cushiony. It was fairly warm in the car, and I felt fairly safe. I found the car just before dawn and slept there until late in the morning. I don’t know how I managed to go unnoticed. I guess it was a blessing.

I walked and walked, and the day got hotter. I stopped at a gas station and drank water from the sink in the restroom. At one point I lay down under a tree on the side of the road and napped. I walked more and realized I probably should drink more water.

I saw a row of businesses set back from the road. I thought maybe I could get water from someone working in one of the stores. I walked up to find most of the stores empty. When I peeked through the front windows, I saw that the rooms that weren’t empty looked more like workshops than stores. I walked down the line, past more locked doors, until I found a man in his workshop polishing stones with some sort of belt grinder.

I asked him for water. He took me a few steps away to his tiny house. He filled a mug with water and handed it to me. As I stood in his doorway and drank, I told him where I’d come from and where I was headed. He said I was still six miles from my destination. He took an empty gallon plastic juice bottle from his dish drain, filled it with water, and handed it to me. I thanked him and went back to the road.

I walked, and I walked some more. At least now I had water to sip. I found a long, sturdy branch, so then I had a walking stick. I found a ball cap on the side of the road, so I had a little protection from the sun. I walked and walked. In all, I walked eleven miles, but I felt like I’d walked an eternity.

The person I was leaving behind had told me repeatedly that I was a bad person, that whenever people didn’t help us or when bad things happened to us, it was because of me. In that walk, I was testing the universe. Bring it on, I thought. If I’m a bad person, bring on what I deserve.

I saw a car pulled to the side of the road, a woman sitting in the driver’s seat. I approached the car and told her I hadn’t eaten anything all day, asked if she had a granola bar or something else I could eat. She handed me a Cliff Bar. I ate it slowly as I walked.

I ended up in a tourist area where people sell arts and crafts. I looked at what people had for sale. I looked at one woman’s jewelry. It was lovely and I told her so. Her prices were good, and I told her that too, but said I had no money. I told here where I’d just walked from, and she asked if I wanted some cold water. I said yes, and she gave me some from her thermos. It was icy and delicious.

At this tourist spot, there is a rest area with restrooms and water spigots and picnic pavilions. I went there, walked around, scavenged in the trash cans for food, found a picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay down on the concrete between the bench and the stone wall of the pavilion. When I woke up cold, I went into the women’s restroom where it was warmer and lay down in the larger of the two stalls.

Shortly before dawn, when there was just enough light to see where I was going, I began walking down a trail that started at the edge of the rest area. I walked and walked until I came to lone tree. Under that tree I sat and rested.

That day was much like the first, except when I got back to the rest area, I noticed an attendant/groundskeeper, so I added avoiding him to my list of things to worry about. I was afraid if he noticed me hanging around, he would call the cops on me. I didn’t relax until he left at five o’clock.

On the third day, I talked to one of the sellers who told me about a food bank in town the next day. He told me they would hook me up if I could get there. Then he suggested I talk to the woman who owned a concession stand in the tourist area about doing some sort of work in exchange for food. I’d had the same idea, but was glad to know he thought she’d be agreeable.

When I approached the women with the concession stand, she said she’d be happy to let me work to earn a meal. She cooked an egg and cheese burrito for me and had me eat it before I spent twenty minutes washing the windows on her stand.

Later that day I met a man who said he’d give me a ride to the food bank the next day. He asked me if there was anything else he could help me with, and I said I could use a blanket and a backpack to carry my (meager) belongings. He said he did have a backpack he could give me and a sleeping bag too. Then he said he lived with his mom, and if I wanted to, I could go back to his mom’s house with him and spend the night there.

I guess I should have been skeptical or more cautious, but I absolutely trusted the man. He didn’t give off any weirdness or bad vibes. So I went with him, and everything was fine.

His mom lived nearby, in a rural community, in a home she had built herself over several years. The house was small and rustic, not by design, but by necessity. Electricity was generated by the sun. Water was collected from the rain and snow that fell on the roof.

The man and I walked about half a mile down the road to the community free box where I found a pair of tan linen pants and a pair of too-large-but-they’ll-do Keen sandals so I didn’t have to wear my boots in the heat of the summer days. Once back at his mom’s house, I took a bath in water from the previous winter’s snow. After my bath, I put on my new-from-the-free-box linen pants. The man gave me a clean shirt—a bright tie dyed t-shirt he’d bought from folks selling such shirts to finance their journey.

The man and his mother shared their dinner with me, although I could tell their resources were slim. When it was time to sleep, they showed me to a single bed in a small storage room. I slid into the blue sleeping bag the man had given me, and I felt a little bit safe.

The next day we went to the food bank, and I got to pick out canned goods and granola bars because I had no way to cook the dried beans and rice they were giving out to people with normal kitchens. Later we went to the river and the man swam while his mother and I just put our feet in to cool off. When we went back to their house, they shared their food again (this time a little fancier because of what the man had gotten at the food bank), and I spent another night in the storage room.

The whole time I was there, the mom tried to convert me to her Baha’i faith. She showed me a book which outlined the principles of the religion. I think she thought I’d been sent there for her to convert. I listened patiently and attentively, but I didn’t feel any sort of calling to the Bahi’a faith. As for as religions go, it seems like maybe it’s one of the better ones, but I understood an expectation that in order to live happily, all people will have to become Baha’i. I believe to live happily, people of each religion need to leave alone people of other religions. That probably means I wasn’t (and am still not) ready to be Baha’i.

When we woke up in the morning, the man and I went back to the tourist area so he could try to sell the jewelry and leather goods he made. I spent the day with him, but after the rest area attendant left for the day, I went back to the picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay my sleeping bag on the concrete between the back bench and the stone wall and went to sleep.

In the next few weeks, I established a routine. I’d roll out my sleeping bag in the picnic pavilion when the sun went down. I’d wake up at the first light of dawn, gather my few belongings, and put on my shoes. Then I’d walk down the trail I’d found on the first day. The attendant was only responsible for the rest area and never went down the trail, and I never saw a ranger out there either. I’d walk out to the tree, spread out my sleeping bag again and sleep for another few hours or just hang out in the shade until I was pretty sure the man would be out selling his goods. Then I’d walk out to meet him and sit with him until he went home.

I wore the tie dyed shirt every day.

One morning I was under the tree in my sleeping bag. The sun was fully up, but I was cool in the shade of the tree. I had my glasses off and was lying on my side with the sleeping bag pushed to my waist. I heard a loud sort of buzzing behind me and thought it was some kind of large insect. I didn’t move or try to swat it; I just lay still. Then I felt something bump my back. It wasn’t a big bump, but I definitely felt something hit me. Then I heard the buzzing in front of me. I opened my eyes and saw a hummingbird for just a moment before it zoomed away.

Teal and Brown Hummingbird Flying

The hummingbird had seen my bright tie-dyed shirt, thought I was a flower in the middle of the desert, and tried to sip some flower nectar. The hummingbird was probably just pissed off and hungry, but I thought my encounter with it was a blessing.

If you are suffering from domestic violence (or wonder if what you are suffering is domestic violence), you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

For more information about getting back on your feet after financial abuse, read the article, “Starting Over: How to Rebuild Your Finances after Escaping a Financially Abusive Relationship,” by .

Image courtesty of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-avian-beak-bird-349758/.