Tag Archives: van dwelling

No Overnight Parking

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We’d been on the road almost all day, so when we pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I really only wanted to eat some dinner and go to bed.

As I drove through the parking lot, I gave a cursory look for signs prohibiting overnight parking and saw none. I pulled the van to the perimeter of the parking lot, on the edge of an embankment. A metal barrier kept cars from rolling down into the trash-strewn gully, and there were certainly no signs there telling folks they couldn’t park overnight.

While cooking and eating dinner, we saw several people walk up the embankment on a well-worn path between the railroad tracks below and the Wal-Mart parking lot. About one couple, The Man said the fellow seemed a little twitchy, but the woman was clearly methed out. More people came and went within 30 feet of the van, but no one approached us to start a conversation.

The Man watched people come and go and saw some of them walk out into the field beyond the tracks. Then he saw a light bouncing around in the field and concluded people were living out there. While we got ready for bed, we saw a new-looking car rolling next to the railroad tracks. Only railroad vehicles are allowed to drive next to the tracks, The Man said. What is going on down there? he wondered. We decided night time was not the right time to go down there to explore.

We’re locking the doors tonight, The Man said before we crawled into bed. He’s not usually one for locking doors, even at night. Heh’s confident he and the fiercely barking, protective dog are capable of scaring off any bad news that comes around.

I might sleep with my knife, he said, referring to the giant knife he uses to peel the bark from wood before carving it. We laughed about what he might shout at anyone who messed around our van in the middle of the night.

We went to bed around nine o’clock. I was exhausted, and I think The Man was too. I fell asleep quickly and slept deeply.

The Man said I woke screaming. Someone had knocked on the van and dragged me from a wonderful place of oblivion. Was it someone high on meth? Was it the police?

Who is it? I said loudly as I moved to the side window.

Wal-Mart manager, a male voice said. There’s no overnight parking here.

Oh. Sorry, I said. We’ll leave. We didn’t see any signs.

There’s one on the pole behind you, he said,

Ok. We’ll leave, I said again as I groped in the dark to find my clothes.

When we had pulled in, I’d noticed the lack of RVs, 18-wheelers, and van dwellers in the lot. In New Mexico, Wal-Mart parking lots often look like truck stops or RV parks, but I just figured not many people wanted to stay overnight in this not very scenic part of Colorado. Frankly, I was so tired, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Before we’d gone to sleep, I had seen another rig parked a couple rows behind us. It was a nice-looking pickup with a fancy slide-in camper. The camper’s stabilizing poles were down, so I figured the driver was in for the night. However, when we left, the pickup with the camper was already gone. I don’t know if the people in that rig were asked to leave or took it upon themselves to go.

There was still one rig parked in the lot when we left. A shiny, new-looking camper trailer was hooked up to a shiny, new-looking (matching) pickup truck. No lights were on in the trailer, and no one was in the truck’s driver seat looking like I felt–sleepy, disheveled, and a little bit frantic. I didn’t see the Wal-Mart manager knocking on the camper door, and I wondered if he’d done it so quickly that he’d been able to make it back into the store in the time it took me to dress and climb into the driver’s seat. Maybe shiny new rigs get to stay overnight. Maybe it’s not considered overnight parking if folks roll in after midnight. Maybe the people in the camper hadn’t answered the manager’s knock and could truthfully say they hadn’t gotten the no overnight parking message I’ll never know.

Luckily, on our way into town, I’d seen a billboard advertising a Love’s travel center only a few interstate exits from the Wal-Mart. The Man and the dog never got out of bed, but I managed to stay awake long enough to drive us to the truck stop. As I drove through the Wal-Mart parking lot to the exit, I saw the one no overnight parking sign I’d managed to miss on the way in. That store might want to invest in more signs so the night manager doesn’t have to go out into the dark to knock on vehicles.

 

Turtle People

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It was a hot summer afternoon at the Bridge, and Tea and I were talking between potential customers. A couple of young people (maybe early 20s, maybe late teens) came up to our tables sitting side by side.

Hello. How are you? Good prices on everything, we told the young people.

It seemed they were lookers, not shoppers, but it was a slow day, and we were happy to have new people for company. Where are y’all from? we asked.

One of the young people was a woman, a young woman, maybe even a girl in many people’s eyes. She had shoulder length dark hair and carried a guitar. She explained she and her companions lived at a local shelter for runaways and other young people who were having problems and could no longer live with their families.

Tea felt a connection with the young people because 50 years ago, she’d been a teenage runaway. After her beloved mother died, she’d been forced to live with her father and a stepmother who didn’t want her around. Life in her new family became too difficult and she’d bolted. Her experiences on the street gave her an understanding of the lives fo these young people, despite the decades stretching between them.

I felt a kinship with the young woman with the dark hair and guitar. She admired the hemp jewelry I’d made and had for sale. She was interested in my van, especially after I told her I lived in it.

Oh! she said with a smile. You’re one of the turtle people. You take your home with you wherever you go!

She wanted to travel too, she told me, when was 18 and on her own. She would be 18 soon, she said wistfully.

I encouraged her, told her if I could thrive living alone in my van, she could too. She could take her guitar on the road and busk to make enough money to see the world, I said.

In repayment of a debt, I’d recently been given a big bag of beads and pendants carved from bone. In the bag, I’d found several pendants shaped like turtles. I quickly realized that soon after I put a handmade hemp necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table, it sold for $20. People love turtles on hemp necklaces.

On the day I met the young woman with the dark hair and guitar, I had a necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table. The young woman admired it, but said she didn’t have any money.

What about a trade? I asked. Do you want to trade for it?

She said she didn’t have anything to trade, and I asked her to play her guitar and sing a song for me. I’ll trade you the necklace for a song, I told her.

She looked young and shy as she sat on the floor of my van where the side doors were open to the world. She adjusted her guitar and said she’d sing a song she’d written herself.

I didn’t hear the traffic on the highway or the conversations between the other vendors and their customers while the young woman gave her song to me. My ears listened only to her guitar and the words of joy and longing and promise she sang to me. I heard only her beautiful song.

When she finished singing, all of us who’d listened to her told her she’d sounded wonderful and thanked her for her gift. I got the turtle necklace for her. She placed it around her neck, and I fastened it for her. We were both smiling and a little teary when we said goodbye. I watched her and her guitar walk away and disappear.

I’ve thought about that young woman as the years have passed. She’s turned 18 and is in her 20s now. I hope she was able to get a van and take her guitar and lovely voice on the road. I hope she’s seeing the world. I hope she’s happy, joyful.

I wonder if she still has the necklace I made. I wonder if she thinks of me, her turtle sister.

 

Life vs. Lifestyle

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Last year at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), I repeatedly heard people refer to the “lifestyle.”

Why did you chose this lifestyle? How long have you been living this lifestyle.

This use of the term “lifestyle” annoys me for a couple of reasons, the first personal and the second more broad.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve been annoyed by questions about my “lifestyle.” Back in the day, I remember being asked to talk about “the anarchist lifestyle.” Then and now, my answer is the same: I can tell you about my life, but I really can’t speak about a lifestyle.

To me (and Merriam-Webster doesn’t exactly validate my belief), life is authentic, but lifestyle is more about wanting to be. I guarantee you, the life I am living is authentically my own. I’m not aspiring to be something else. I am not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m doing my thing, living my life, not attempting to live in some specific way so I can fit in with some specific group. The only “lifestyle” I can speak about is the Blaize Sun/Rubber Tramp Artist lifestyle; in other words, my own personal, individual life.

The other reason I’m annoyed by the use of the word “lifestyle” is validated by Merriam-Webster. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lifestyle), “lifestyle” is

the usual way of life of a person, group, or society.

So what is the “usual” van dweller or rubber tramp way of life? Is there a usual, typical, customary, normal, standard, established, conventional, traditional, or predictable way that van dwellers live their lives?

While some van dwellers live in banged up old cargo vans, others reside in late-model, expensive Sprinters and Class B RVs. Some folks make their homes in 20+ year old conversion vans and some folks live in minivans. Some rubber tramps aren’t van dwellers at all, but live in cars and SUVs. Are all of those folks living the same lifestyle?

Some van dwellers receive money from pensions or trust funds. Some get monthly disability or social security payments. Some of us have to be frugal to survive, while others are able to live as extravagantly as they desire. Some of us still have to work for money (full-time job or a part-time job or seasonal work) if we want to eat. Are we all living the same lifestyle?

Some people are living in vans that have been painstakingly and expensively customized. Some rubber tramps have insulated their vehicle’s walls and put down nice flooring, tinted the windows, and installed enough solar panels to power a house in the suburbs. Other people throw down a blanket on the floor and call it good because that’s all they can manage or afford, or maybe because they like to live a simple life. Which of these folks is living the van dweller lifestyle?

Some van dwellers are only living in their vans part of the time, taking weekend trips or driving their vans on vacations. Some folks are taking extended trips, but have a conventional home to return to whenever they want. Some people are living in their vans 24/7, with no other home to go to if they get cold or sick or tired of being on the road. Some full-timers have every possession they own with them, while others pay for storage facilities or leave belongings with friends or family. Are the lifestyles of these people the same or different?

I’m not interested in settling on qualifications for “real” van dwellers or rubber tramps. I’m just saying, as far as I can tell, there’s not one “lifestyle” being lived by every van dweller or rubber tramp. There are an infinite  variety of ways to live based on individual choices. Talking about “the lifestyle” doesn’t even make sense.

Personally, I’m not interested in living a ‘lifestyle.” I want to live my life. It’s easier to change that way. If I commit myself to a “lifestyle” of van dwelling, what does that mean when I house sit or stay with friends or rent a room in a house for some period of time? Living my life seems a flexible; I can evolve and change . If I decide to live a “lifestyle” I have to stay within the parameters set by the group if i want to keep my place in the group. I’ll just continue doing things the way that works for me, thank you very much. I’ll just live my life.

 

 

Ten Reasons I Like Living in My Van

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#1 I don’t pay thousands of dollars a year in rent

#2 I don’t pay monthly bills for water, electricity, internet, and/or trash pickup.

#3 Because I have fewer bills, I don’t have to work 50 weeks a year.

#4 Living in a small space helps me keep my tendency to collect things in check.

#5 If I want something I own (my towel, my pillow, a certain shirt, a certain book), I only have to walk out to my van to get it.

#6 If I don’t like where I’m staying, it’s easy to go elsewhere.

#7 Whenever I’ve got my van with me, I’ve got my bed with me. If I can park, I can nap comfortably.

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I took this photo showing the decorations on the ceiling and walls of my van.

#8 I’ve got the ceiling and walls of my van decorated with mementos, so it’s like living in a scrapbook.

#9 I’m less isolated from nature than are most people who live in conventional homes.

#10 I can hear the sound of rain hitting my metal roof.

To read more about why I like living in a van, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/04/30/10-things-i-love-about-van-life/.

 

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.

(Guest Post) A new way of living

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Today’s guest blog is by my friend Nina. I met Nina a couple of years ago at a gathering for people interested in van dwelling. We don’t see each other often, but we stay in touch electronically. Nina has been very supportive of my life and my writing. Today you can read her story.

Thank you to my dear friend Blaize for having faith in me and asking me to write an article for her blog!

Two years ago, being 50 years young and having to resign from a full time permanent position with a government environmental agency was the beginning of a new way of living for me. This same agency had been my employment with seasonal, term and lastly a permanent position for a total of about 11 years. It was my planned career and retirement until fate intervened. The stressful permanent position was an office job, unlike the prior office/outdoor Nature dominated tenure.  The stress had been building through the years and I was researching various other options.

RVing full-time and van living was on my radar. I had come across a website, www.cheaprvliving.com by Bob Wells, which resounded with my unique ideas and philosophy.  It was a great source of information and I started bookmarking articles that were important to me! It seemed that the RV life would be feasible after I retired.

A renovation had started in our work building and certain floors were being worked on two at a time. When it came time for our floor, the tearing out and replacing the carpet, plastic baseboard, paint and the various glues, dust and cleaner smells were too much for my body to endure. Accommodations were made by moving my desk, files and phone onto another unrenovated floor until the work process was complete.

When I returned to my new cubicle, the smells and chemicals were causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea as I tried to tough it out. My symptoms were discussed with my supervisor and off I went to my Naturopath Doctor (ND) in another city. The ND and I had a good relationship for several years prior. My prior positions had involved herbicide and pesticide applications along with my other outdoor duties.  Chemical sensitivities, allergies and various intestinal issues appeared that had me turn to natural medicine and eating healthier.  Meeting her had changed my life! She helped me understand the antibiotics and drugs the regular Medical Doctor (MD) had given in prior illnesses only dealt with symptoms not the real problem.  A wide array of blood tests that included the liver were run and compared to my prior tests. The ND discussed the results which showed my liver was overwhelmed with toxins and was dumping them for other organs to try to handle.

The agency then put out canisters designed to detect dangerous chemicals and sent them to a lab for testing. After reporting the ND results to my supervisor, the agency decided they wanted my tests redone by a qualified MD in order to accommodate me. In the meantime, the canisters came back with no harmful toxins or chemicals in the air. It was discussed with my ND and decided that for me to recover as much as possible, exposure to the area was to be limited. Choosing between money/career vs. my health was made. Resignation was the hard, but clear choice.

It was then the realization of how full-timing, van living could possibly improve my health!  A van was chosen, because of my financial situation. Each day afterwards there have been many adventures, challenges and new people, both good and bad. It would have been harder without the wonderful support of many people including Blaize!

Knock in the Night

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I’ve been living and traveling alone in my van since the Fall of 2012. I’ve been through at least ten states and have stayed in cities and on public land. On only two occasions has anyone bothered me while I was sleeping. Once it was a cop harassing me (read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/07/cop-knock/), and the other time–well, I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about.

I was staying at a free National Forest campground in Northern New Mexico. I’d stayed there before. It was basically primitive camping, but there were a couple of pit toilets there. I liked the place, mostly because there was no charge to stay, but also because it was next to a river, lots of tall trees grew there, and the temperature was cool.

I arrived late in the afternoon of the night in question. I’d been selling jewelry and shiny rocks all day. I was tired. I wanted to eat dinner, then crawl into my bed with a book, probably go to sleep early. I was scheduled to sell jewelry and shiny rocks the next day, so I planned to get moving early.

When I’d pulled into the campground, I’d found the most desirable spots close to the pit toilets had been claimed. I looked around until I found a spot to park the van farther out. There was a tent pitched in the general area, but I gave it plenty of space.

I went about my business of cooking and eating dinner. While I was outside, I saw at least one large dog and several young men around the other tent. A small pickup truck arrived, then left. I kept to myself, didn’t try to make conversation, but I noticed it wasn’t a family camping over there. I saw no children, no mother figure, just guys.

When the sky darkened, I got in the van, locked the doors, and closed the curtains. I read my book, then turned out my light. The night was going according to plan.

Suddenly I was jolted awake by knocking on the van’s exterior. It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what was happening. I’m in my van, I remembered. I’m parked next to the river.

The knocking came again.

Who is it? I yelled. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded grumpy and gruff.

The side windows were open to let in the cool night air, so apparently my voice was audible. I didn’t even move a curtain to peek outside, much less open the door.

A male voice outside the van identified itself as one of the neighbor campers. If their vehicle needed a jump start in the morning, would I help them out?

What the fuck? I was thinking. Who knocks on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night to ask for a jump start if the situation is not a full-blown emergency? Apparently this guy.

Sure, I told the guy, if you need a jump in the morning, I’ll help you out if I’m around.

I knew good and well that I planned to be out of there early. I’d likely be gone before the sun was up.

The guy seemed to wander away (I wasn’t trying to peep out the windows), but now I was wide awake. (If you’ve ever felt the burst of adrenaline that comes with waking from a deep sleep to the tune of someone knocking on your van, you know it’s not easy to drift off after.) I started wondering what was really going on. Why had the guy really knocked? He must have suspected I was asleep since it was the middle of the night (around 2am when I switched on my light to look at my watch), and there hadn’t been a single light on in the van.

As I lay there wondering if I were safe, wondering if the man would come back, I tried to remember the vehicle situation at the nearby camp. I didn’t remember seeing a vehicle parked near the tent when I arrived. I did remember the small pickup  pulling in, but I was mostly sure it had left. I hadn’t heard another vehicle arrive after dark, but I could have conceivably slept through a car or small truck’s arrival. Could I have slept through the noise of someone discovering a dead battery, discussing the situation with others? Maybe. But I was almost certain the man had asked for my help if the battery were dead. Did he not even know the status of the battery when he asked for my help?

I finally slept again for a few hours more. I woke early, but didn’t get out of the van. When I looked out of the windows, no one seemed to be moving on the other campsite. As I maneuvered my van out of my spot, the van’s engine noise awakened the large dog who barked and barked and barked. I felt satisfaction that perhaps the dogs’ barking would awaken the guy who’d disturbed my slumber.

As I left the camping area, I looked around for a vehicle that belonged to the nearby campsite. I didn’t see any vehicles–not a car, not a truck, not a motorcycle or even a bike. Did a vehicle start and leave sometime after the man knocked on my van? Maybe. But I doubt I would have slept through any noise after the knocking interrupted my sleep and shot adrenaline through my body.

I’ve often wondered what was really going on that night. I don’t think those guys had a vehicle at all, much less one that maybe had a dead battery. As I said before, barring a complete emergency, good manners and common sense dictate that one does not knock on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night.

I think the man just wanted to know what I would do if he knocked on my van in the wee hours. Maybe he’d acted alone. Maybe the other man had dared him to knock. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe he was hoping I’d open the door or step of the van so he could what? Rob me? Rape me? Did he just want to know if I’d agree to help? Did the men not want a camping neighbor and were hoping to scare me off?

I suppose I’ll never know what the intentions were that night, but I’m glad there was nothing scarier that night than a knock in the dark.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.