Monthly Archives: July 2018

Discomfort

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I knew immediately that my homelessness made the woman uncomfortable.

I wasn’t trying to make her uncomfortable. I was simply speaking my truth, sharing my reality.

She was probably a few years older than I was. Her clothing (tasteful but not ostentatious) and her speech (no slang, proper grammar) marked her as belonging to the educated middle class. She had come to walk with her daughter in the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, and she seemed a little nervous, a little out of her element. Her daughter had wandered off, and the woman seemed to want to chat with someone so she wouldn’t feel awkward in her aloneness.

Women in my age group who think I’m of their social class seem to gravitate toward me when we’re in a group that makes them uncomfortable. I’m educated, and I speak proper, mostly unaccented English. My hair is streaked with grey and my tattoos and the gaps where my rotten teeth have been pulled are mostly invisible. I appear to be a “normal” older professional woman, and other “normal” older professional women seem to think I’m safe to interact with.

I don’t remember how this particular woman and I began chatting. I think she joined me at a table for a meal. Maybe she and I lingered after the other folks at the table left. In whatever way the conversation started, I could soon tell she thought we had similar lives.

I also don’t remember what question she asked me about myself, but my response was that I lived in my van. I immediately picked up on her discomfort. It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned living in my van to a woman in my age group and immediately sensed her discomfort.

Maybe the conversation went like this: Maybe the woman asked me where I lived and I said I lived in my van. Maybe then she asked me why I lived in my van, and I gave her my stock/true answer that I’d been homeless before I started living in the van, so the van was a step up.

However the topic came up, I knew my talk of homelessness as a real part of my life made my table companion nervous.

I suspect when a woman thinks I’m like her but then finds out I’ve been really homeless and I’m currently living-in-a-van homeless, she gets a little bit freaked out because she’s identified with me. If I was/am homeless, and she and I are somehow alike, she realizes she could end up homeless too. I think it’s a very disconcerting realization for some women.

Upon hearing about my living situation, this particular woman launched into a story about how one night after eating at a restaurant, she gave her leftovers to a homeless man. I guess she wanted me to know she was down with and kind to homeless people. I resisted the urge to explain that street kids call asking folks for their leftovers “white boxing,” presumably because restaurants often pack up leftovers in white Styrofoam containers.

The story was long and detailed, and the woman’s nervousness was obvious. Our whole point of interaction had become about her trying to convey to me how ok she was with homeless people (and therefore ok with me). Suddenly I wasn’t an individual sitting in front of her, but a member of a group that caused her discomfort.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman’s story. I think I managed, I’m sure the man appreciated the food, but how was I to know what the man thought of her offering?

I was almost sorry I’d mentioned living in my van. I hadn’t wanted to cause the woman distress. On the other hand, I wondered why I needed to hide my reality in order to save someone else from discomfort. I don’t have to be ashamed of having been totally homeless or of being living-in-a-van homeless. Being homeless isn’t a moral failure. Being homeless doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

The woman’s discomfort made me uncomfortable too. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though logically I knew I hadn’t. The woman rambled on with a story I didn’t really want to hear. I excused myself as soon as I could and left the table feeling alienated and awkward. I wished I could be as normal as people thought I was.

Purse

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She didn’t have much English.

What we see here? she asked when she approached the counter.

The guy with her didn’t seem to have any English. After I explained they’d see giant sequoias on the trail, she turned to the guy and translated. The language they spoke wasn’t one I recognized. The other store clerk insisted it must have been Portuguese (because she could recognize French, Italian, and Spanish), but I wasn’t convinced. I’ve been told Portuguese sounds like a mix of Spanish and Italian, but the language these customers spoke sounded like nothing I’d ever heard.

The woman’s entry into the mercantile’s guest book did nothing to solve the mystery. I’m sure the other clerk thought all would become clear when the woman accepted the offer to sing in, but I’m sure she wasn’t expecting the visitor to write “Torrance, CA” on the line.

The woman asked for directions to the closest national park. I explained in detail what roads to take and even pulled out a California road map so I could tell and show. The woman bought the map and asked if they should walk our trail before they left. I told them I’d get on the road immediately, as they still had a drive of several hours ahead of them.

The woman asked about restrooms, and I pointed to the building housing pit toilets on the other side of the driveway. She spoke to her fellow, and they both moved to the store’s door.

The woman had put her purse on the front counter during the examination of the map, and it was still sitting there. I thought she’d pick it up before she left the building, but she seemed to plan to go to the restroom without it.

Ma’am, your purse, I said as she got farther from the purse and closer to the door.

She waved her hand at me, as if to indicate, Oh, that old thing? I don’t need to take it with me. With her limited English, she communicated that they were only going to the restroom and would be right back.

Um, no.

You really should take it, I said sternly.

She took the steps back towards me and swept the purse off the counter.

I’m glad she thought I was honest. I am honest, but she had no way of knowing I wouldn’t riffle through her bag and pull out some choice items.

Also, how was I to know she wasn’t going to try to pull some scam on me? She could have come back from the restroom and insisted I’d taken a nonexistent wad of cash/iPhone/credit card.

What if other people had come into the store and someone had snatched her bag while I wasn’t looking? Would she have held me responsible for not keeping a closer watch on her belongings?

I was not willing to take responsibility for her things. I don’t know how it’s done in Torrance, CA, but where I come from, we don’t ask store clerks we don’t know to take care of our purses.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-leather-crossbody-bag-with-white-framed-sunglasses-167703/.

 

How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions

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If you live nomadically, you have more freedom to visit tourist attractions across the U.S.A. From Arcadia National Park on the coast of Maine to Disneyland in Southern California, nomads can spend their days basking in natural beauty and having fun in amusement parks and at roadside attractions. Since fun often comes at a price, and nomads aren’t the only people on a tight budget, today I offer tips on saving money while visiting tourist attractions. The tips are aimed at nomads, but will be helpful for anyone trying to save money while on vacation.

#1 Visit in the off-season, Peak tourist season is usually Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend  when lots of kids are out of school, but some places (I’m looking at you, Southern Arizona!) have the opposite peak season because of the ultra-hot summers and the mild winters. Some places (like Taos, NM) have two peak seasons—one during family vacation season in the summer and another during ski season in the winter. Do some research on the places you want to visit to find out when they’re less likely to be busy.

Not only are attractions less busy in the off-season, you may find nearby accommodations and activities deeply discounted.  Some amusement and theme parks offer better deals on admission during slow times.

#2 Sleep cheap. Find free or super cheap camping near the places you want to visit. You can save a bundle by camping instead of staying in a hotel or motel. I’ve found free camping close to several national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns) using the Free Campsites  and Campendium websites. On occasions when I couldn’t find a free campsite, I’ve found campgrounds listed on those sites (like the Super Bowl campground right outside the Needles District of Canyonlands) with a nightly fee under $10.

If you want to splurge on a night out of your rig, but don’t want to spend a wad of cash, look into staying at a hostel. Available in both mega cities (several in  NYC, three in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in Phoenix, just to name a few) and in smaller towns near ski areas (the Lazy Lizard in Moab, UT; the SnowMansion northeast of Taos, NM; the Santa Fe International Hostel in Santa Fe, NM) hostels offer budget rates on a place to get a shower and a bed for the night. Cheapest accommodations are usually in dorms, but some hostels offer private rooms with private baths and cabins.

#3 Keep your food cost down. Bring your own snacks and drinks into the attraction if you can. Most national parks and monuments allow visitors to bring in food and beverages, so stock up before you arrive and don’t pay gift shop prices for granola bars and trail mix. Many amusement and theme parks do allow visitors to bring in a limited number of bottles of water, small snacks, and medically necessary food.

If possible, cook for yourself instead of eating out. If you’re boondocking or staying in a campground, cooking for yourself will probably be part of your normal rubber tramp routine. If you’re sleeping in a hostel, use of a community kitchen is often included in the nightly fee. If you do stay in a hotel or motel and the room includes a microwave, take advantage of it to make a simple meal. Also take advantage of any free breakfast the hotel/motel offers, as well as any free coffee or tea available to start your day.

Remember: food will usually cost less in supermarkets than in convenience stores or small grocery stores, so stock up on food before you hit the road or you might end up spending a lot of money on food in a remote location.

#4 Buy all your gear before you head to a tourist attraction. Similarly, supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small town prices for sunscreen, insect repellent, propane, fire starter, and batteries by planning ahead. Save money by getting supplies before you leave civilization.

You may also find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it. Top off your tank before you leave civilization.

#5 If you’re going to visit several attractions in one area, look for a bundle pass that offers access to multiple places for a one-time price.

When my host family visited Utah in the summer of 2017, they planned to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Admission to each park costs $15 to $30 per vehicle, but the Southeast Utah Parks Pass was only $55 and allowed unlimited access to the three attractions the family wanted to visit, plus Hovenweep National Monument. Because the pass was valid for 12 months, The Lady of the House used it again in April 2018 to get us into those places during our epic Arizona-Utah road trip.

#6 If the price of admission allows you to enter the attraction for multiple days, take advantage of this option. Most national parks are expensive to visit, usually $25 to $35 per vehicle (and probably more in some places), but most national parks I’ve visited have allowed visitors to enter for five days to a week after paying the admission fee. Spending $35 to visit an attraction seven days in a row is a much better deal than spending $35 to stay in the place for just a few hours. Especially if you have a free or cheap camping spot nearby, slow down and get your money’s worth by exploring a place for as many days as your admission fee allows.

#7 Find out if the place you want to visit offers birthday discounts or freebies. Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde, AZ charges between $18.95 (for kids 3-12) and $33.95 (for adults, with discounts for seniors and active duty members of the military and veterans) for admission, but offers folks free visits any day during their birth month. While such birthday gifts may not be typical, it’s worth checking into at privately owned attractions.

#8 If you’re eligible for a federal senior pass or access pass, get it! The access pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are legally blind or permanently disabled. The senior pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years or age or older. The senior pass now costs $80, but that’s a one-time fee, and the pass is valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.

Both of these passes admit the pass holder and passengers (in a private, noncommercial vehicle) to national parks and other federally managed lands. These passes also provide 50% off camping fees in many campgrounds on public land. Even at $80, the senior pass could pay for itself after only a couple of visits to national parks or a few nights in a campground.

#9 Participate in activities included in the price of admission. When my friend and I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, we found ranger-led van tours were included in the cost of admission. We rode in a passenger van driven by a ranger while another ranger told us about the desert scenes we saw through the windows. On another day we returned to the monument and went on a hike led by a ranger. The ranger drove a group of us to the trailhead and we hiked together while the expert shared information about the plants and animals we saw.

The visitor centers at most national parks and monuments—and at some state parks too—have educational exhibits and movies. These exhibits and movies are offered at no extra charge and allow visitors to learn about the area at their own pace.

The visitor center should also have information about upcoming ranger talks or ranger-led activities. The last time I was at Sequoia National Park, I attended a free ranger talk about woodpeckers. It lasted about half an hour and was fun and informative.

#10 If you must have souvenirs, buy small, less expensive items. At only 51 cents each, pressed pennies come for a price that’s hard to beat. At the Utah national parks and monument gift shops I visited, quarter-sized tokens depicting famous landmarks were going for 99 cents each. I also found strips of six postcards at the same gift shops for $1.99 and individual postcards for about the same cost per card at a supermarket in Moab. Not only were these items the least expensive souvenirs, they take up very little of the limited space in my van.

If you’re attracted to larger (and usually overpriced) souvenirs like sweatshirts, water bottles, and coffee table books, ask yourself these questions before you buy: Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I really use it? Can I really afford it? What will I have to give up in order to bring this into my life?

#11 If you’re visiting with kids, set spending limits before you walk into a gift shop or step up to the snack shack.  Offer options within the set price range, such as You can spend $5 on lunch, which means you can have a slice of pizza or a hot dog and fries. or You can spend $10 on a souvenir. Do you want the flashlight or the Smokey Bear compass?

If you and the kids are visiting national parks, collect all the Junior Rangers freebies available and do your best to convince the children the free stuff is better than anything for sale in the gift shop.

Being on a budget does not have to stop you from having fun. By planning ahead and using skills you already have as a rubber tramp (such as knowing how to find free camping and cooking for yourself) you can have fun and see gorgeous places without breaking the bank.

Blaize Sun has been a rubber tramp for almost a decade, but has been a tightwad for a lot longer than that. Blaize comes from a long line of tightwads, including a grandma who could squeeze a nickel so tight the buffalo would groan. Blaize knows how to have a good time on the cheap and firmly believes if she can do it, you can too!

I took all the photos in this post.

Shrieking Shopper

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On Sunday night I did my duty as security guard for the mercantile. I pulled my van between the mercantile and the rentable yurt behind it. I hung my curtains immediately, and no one bothered me.

On Monday morning I woke up early and went into the mercantile before 6am. I used the WiFi to check Facebook and schedule a couple of short blog posts. While I was standing behind the counter messing around on my laptop, I glanced across the room, and under shelves holding t-shirts I saw a mouse butt disappearing into the shadow.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownGet out of here! I shouted at the creature. You don’t live here!

I don’t know if my words influenced the rodent of if it was just the vibration of my yelling that sent it on its way. I didn’t really care why it left; I was glad to see it go.

On Tuesday morning The Big Boss Man handed me three boxes of rodent poison. I put on latex gloves, pulled the cover off each tray, then placed the trays full of poison pellets behind and under lockers and shelves.

The Man is really sad about killing the mice. I’m not too happy about the murder of mice myself, but I haven’t come up with a another effective solution.

Possible Solution #1: Let mice live in the mercantile.

Problems with Possible Solution #1: Mice will shit and piss everywhere. Having shit and piss all over the mercantile would be gross and unsanitary. Also, mice would chew merchandise and use clothing to make their nests.

Possible Solution #2: Catch mice in a live trap.

Problems with Possible Solution #2: Mice caught in a live trap must be released miles from their home, or they will soon return to the original location. I doubt The Big Boss Man is going to drive mice miles down the road looking for a place to release them humanely.

Possible Solution #3: Get one of those devices that (allegedly) emit high frequency sounds that (allegedly) drive rodents away.

Problems with Possible Solution #3: I’m not sure those devices even work. The devices need electricity to work, and one might use more electricity than the store’s solar panels transmit to battery storage. Such a device might cause the store’s generator to run at night, interfering with the quietude of nature and possibly annoying campers.

Possible Solution #4: Get a cat to live in the store.

Problems with Possible Solution #4: Some customers will be allergic to cats and have a bad reaction when they walk into the mercantile. The cat will sleep on stacks of shirts, leaving fur and allergens behind.

Later on Tuesday morning, an extended family from Missouri walked into the mercantile. The boy child was about six, and the girl child was probably ten. Both had blond hair and round checks. The mom and dad seemed wholesome and spoke to the children and each other calmly. This branch of the family—parents and kids—wore matching t-shirts in support of the girl’s friend who had cancer. The grandparents came in a little after the rest of the family.

Grandpa sported a mustache and wore a ball cap and a t-shirt from a Christian fishing event with a quote from the Bible on the back. (Of course, he had on pants too, but there was nothing remarkable about them.) Grandma had permed her thin brown hair and wore glasses and simple, casual clothes appropriate for a walk in the forest. I suppose I’m old because the grandparents seemed closer to my age group than the parents were.

The members of the family were lingering, seemingly looking at every single item in the mercantile. I stood behind the register and daydreamed while I waited for someone to bring up selections for me to ring up.

Suddenly Grandma screamed! It was a high-pitched, scared scream, not angry yelling. Probably a better word for the sound Grandma emitted is “shriek.”

Everyone in the store turned to look at her.

I’m sorry, she gasped. There was a mouse!

She said she’d picked up a t-shirt and as she lifted it, a mouse fell to the floor, then scurried away. She was apologetic, obviously embarrassed, and still terrified. She wouldn’t even go back to the side of the store where the mouse incident had occurred. She handed off the mousy t-shirt to the other clerk and picked out a shirt from a shelf as far away from her rodent encounter as possible.

I identified with her discomfort. I would have shrieked too if a mouse had fallen out of a t-shirt I was considering for purchase. I probably would have left the store and never returned.

I felt for the poor little mouse too. It had probably just eaten some poison and was looking for a softly comfortable place to die. Instead of finding a peaceful death, it was shrieked at and dropped to the floor. I hope my own passing is less eventful.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-apodemus-sylvaticus-brown-button-eyes-208977/.

Security

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anatomy, biology, eyeNow that the store is up and full of merchandise, The Big Boss Man wants someone on site in the campground where it’s located every night. When the camp hosts are away from the campground during their weekly time off, guard duty falls to me.

To be fair, The Big Boss Man says, if you don’t mind to me whenever he asks me to do something extra, but it seems risky to me to refuse his reasonable request. Honestly, sleeping at the other campground is no big deal. The beauty of sleeping in my van is that I get to spend the night in my own bed no matter where I’m parked. Also, I’m reimbursed for the mileage I accrue driving back and forth between the campground where I live and the campground where the store is located. At 54 cents a mile, I’m not getting rich from driving, but at least it’s a little something to help me out.

I’m not sure what I would do if I woke up in the night and realized someone was robbing the store. The phone is in the store, so if burglars were in there, forget about calling 911 or my boss. I suppose I could get license plate number(s) and description(s) of vehicle(s) and person(s) involved, then climb into my drivers seat, start my van, and drive away to alert my boss. I suppose on my way out of the campground I could shout, That’s my purse! I don’t know you!

Before the campground opened, and I stayed there overnight to guard the store and the yurts, I parked in one of the paved accessible parking spaces. The gates were closed, and I had the only vehicle there, so I figured it didn’t matter if I parked in a reserved spot. Once the campground opened, I decided I better stay out of areas designated for folks with disabilities.

The first night I was on security duty after the campground opened, I drove through the area before parking in thehttps://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/699558/pexels-photo-699558.jpeg?resize=388%2C238&ssl=1 camp host site. I knew the hosts had checked in two groups with reservations earlier that afternoon, but I saw at least five sites were occupied. The campground had gotten some walk-in campers before I arrived.

I was not on camp host duty, so I wasn’t concerned with any campers who were not checked in. The Man would patrol the campground the next morning and write permits for anyone who hadn’t been issued one by the camp hosts before they left. I hadn’t been given any permits (since I wasn’t working as a camp host), so I couldn’t have check in anyone even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.

After driving around the campground, I backed into the host site. I had a decent view of the store there, so I could see what was going on if I heard any noises in the night.

I knew I should have drawn my curtains immediately, but instead I sat in my passenger seat, pulled out my phone, and tried to catch a whiff of the store’s WiFi. I hadn’t sat there even ten minutes when I looked up and saw five people standing near my van, looking intently at me.

The youngest woman said, Hello! as soon as I looked up.

I greeted her, but I suspect I looked grim.

They would like to camp here, the young woman said, gesturing to the other people standing nearby.

Ok, I said, leaning back to speak through the open windows on the side of the van. A camp host will be around tomorrow to check them in.

Tomorrow, she echoed. Is there one site that’s not reserved?

I don’t know, I said, which was the truth.

I don’t have any paperwork, I said, which was the truth. The Man had the arrival report for the campground. I knew the camp hosts had put up a reservations card on each campsite that had been reserved for the next week. All the people had to do was walk around and read the signs to find out what sites were available that night.

The young woman continued to look at me expectantly. I’m just working security, I explained with a there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrug.

The people wandered away from my van and huddled together in the roadway, presumably discussing which campsites were available that night.

I learned my lesson that night. I no longer spend my security guard nights in the host site. I park behind the Mercantile and put up my curtains immediately. When I’m away from the host site, the campers don’t seem to consider me someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/eye-iris-anatomy-biology-8588/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.

Why I Don’t Have Solar

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The title of this post is a little misleading. I do have solar panels and deep cycle batteries and an inverter to provide electricity for my fifth wheel out in the desert, but I don’t have any sort of solar setup for my van.

There was a time when I seemed to keep meeting men 15 to 20 years older than I am who liked to tell me, You need solar! without taking into account my particular situation. They had a solar setup; it was working well for them, so they thought I should have what they had. I know these guys were trying to be helpful, that they thought solar power could help me as it had helped them. However not only did I bristle at having someone who barely knew me tell me what I needed (none of them ever asked if I’d considered solar power or what my reasons were for not having a solar setup), my individual situation kept solar power off my list of needs.

Most importantly, for at least the first four years of my solo vandwelling, I simply couldn’t afford the components necessary to provide my van with solar power. Even if I could have gotten the installation done for free at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or some other van gathering, I couldn’t afford all the necessary pieces. I still live pretty much hand to mouth. Add in a van that seems to need a repair every six months or so and has needed new tires three years in a row (!), and I just haven’t had the several hundred dollars I’d need to buy solar panels and a deep cycle battery and an inverter and all the other pieces and parts I don’t even know I need.

Up until I got my fifth wheel last winter and was able to use it as a place to store some of my stuff, lack of space in my van was a huge issue. Anyone who lives in a van with every single item s/he owns knows space is at a premium. I am not a minimalist, and for most of my life as a vandweller, I could not image where I’d put a deep cycle battery. I literally had no place for such a thing.

Another factor in my hesitation to spend a bunch of money on a solar setup was my place of employment. For the last three years (and this year too) I’ve worked in a National Forest during the camping season from mid-May to mid-October. Forest = trees and trees = shade. What good are solar panels that aren’t in the sun? Not much good! I’d have to move the solar panels around all day to keep them in full sun, and my work hasn’t been conducive to such uses of my time. It never made sense to me to spend a large hunk of money on something I couldn’t use fully for at least five months out of the year.

I’ve figured out ways other than solar panels and deep cycle batteries to meet my vandwelling needs. I use solar powered Luci lights to see by at night and a small, foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One to charge my phone. I also have a 140 watts Schumacher power converter that plugs into my 12 volt power supply and allows me to charge my laptop and phone, as well as a USB power adapter which allows me to charge two phones at once. I spent about $20 on the most recent Luci light I purchased via Walmart.com, under $25 for the power converter, and about five bucks for the USB power converter at a Family Dollar store in a small desert town. I received the folding solar panels as a gift (and now I can’t find them on Amazon to tell you how much they cost my benefactor).

abstract, beach, brightDon’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t get a solar setup for their van (or car or RV or truck camper or whatever). The solar setup on my fifth wheel (which was already up and running when I moved in and was very reasonably priced) is very convenient. What could be easier than flipping a switch and having a light come on? Remarkable! However, because the fifth wheel is out in the desert, the solar panels are out in the sun for hours almost every day. I don’t have to move them around to catch the sun. I don’t have to do anything to make the system work.

What I’m saying is that I don’t need an entire solar setup to live in my van. Most rubber tramps do not need an entire solar setup. A nomadic life can be lived without it. Heck, for years I didn’t have a power converter and only charged my laptop when I had access to electricity in a house, business, or library.

If you want to use solar power in your rig and can afford a full setup, go for it! However, if you’re a nomad wannabe without a lot of money to get started, don’t think you have to delay your nomadic life until you have solar panels on your roof and a deep cycle battery next to your passenger seat. Most folks actually need very little to start living nomadically. Get your rig. Move in. There you go! You’re ready to hit the road, even if you don’t own a single solar panel.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-solar-panels-159397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-countryside-dawn-daylight-302804/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-beach-bright-clouds-301599/.

 

Drive-Thru

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I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.

I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.

I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.

I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.

I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.

When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?

I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.

Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.

agriculture, basket, beetsWhen my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes;  Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of  Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.

I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/agriculture-basket-beets-bokeh-533360/.

The Current Situation

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The Man has left the mountain.

He’d been having a difficult time. He’d gotten sick and was still feeling the effects two weeks later. He’d been working alone at the parking lot since I’d started full-time at the mercantile on the Thursday before Memorial Day. He was still having trouble with his daily paperwork and sometimes spent a couple hours a day on it. The weekly cash out was an ordeal that took several hours. He was frustrated, tired, and discouraged, and one day he’d had enough, so he left.

He broke up with the job, but he didn’t break up with me. We still love each other, and we talk about the future.

We’re currently in different states, but that’s ok. Our bodies may be apart, but our hearts are still together.

He’s learning to cut stones to use in his wire-wrapped jewelry. I’m still working in the Mercantile, reading books, and working on this blog. I miss The Man, but overall, I’m doing well.

With the Big Boss Man’s permission, I moved out of the campground where The Man and I were living and moved to a little nook in the nearby group campground. I’m now living in the campground where I found the dead man! I could have stayed in the other campground but it seemed too awkward for me to share a site with the new camp host and his mentor/roommate. Also, I still feel responsible for that campground, and I didn’t want to have to constantly make decisions as to whether or not I should offer the new camp host suggestions or just let him run the campground as he sees fit. I thought my life would be easier if I packed up and left.

Living at the new campground puts me closer to the Mercantile, so I can save a little bit of gas each day. My campsite is surrounded by trees, and I can see a meadow from where I stay. In the past, a bear has frequented this area; after the campers left and before the garbage was picked up, he would have a trash can buffet. I’m trying hard to keep my site clean so as not to attract this bear or any others.  The campground is usually empty during the week, so I expect to have a lot of quiet time.

All in all, life is still good.

 

Karen

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Photo of Black Flat Screen MonitorHer nametag read “Karen,” and she was our cashier at a Wal-Mart in a medium-sized city in central California.

The Man and I had popped into Wal-Mart to get a few supplies before we headed back up the mountain. The Man had a 12-pack of socks and a comb, and I had a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of bleach. We usually go through the self-check line, but that morning I wanted my cash back partially in ones so I could feed the water dispensing machine. I knew the self-checkout machines would only spit out twenties, so I needed to deal with a human to get the bills I wanted.

Karen had completely white hair styled in a way that seemed old-fashiond even for a woman I presumed to be about 70 years old. She asked me if we needed to buy a bag, and I said no, we’d just carry our purchases out in our arms.

We’re not from California, I told her, so we forget to bring in our own bags.

(In much of California, stores no longer provide flimsy plastic bags for free. Shoppers can bring in their own bags or purchase paper bags or slightly more sturdy plastic bags at the register.)

You’re lucky you’re not from California! Karen exclaimed.

I told her we worked in the National Forest, and I must have told her we traveled too, because she asked me What’s your favorite place? I told her I’d just been to Moab (she looked confused, so I added Utah) and I’d liked it very much, and I said I really like Taos, NM too.

What’s your favorite place? I asked her.

She’d never been out of California, she told me.

Well, what’s your favorite place in California? I asked.

Home, she replied with a laugh.

Where would you like to go? I persisted.

I’m 82 years old, she said, much to my surprise. I thought she was a dozen years younger. I’m scared to go anywhere, she told me.

I’m always shocked when I meet people who’ve never ventured even into a neighboring state. I suppose California is big enough to satisfy a lifetime of wanderlust, but I wonder if Karen traveled even the state of her birth. I just hope she was content to stay at home instead of being held there by fear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-black-flat-screen-monitor-811103/.

Why I Chose a Minivan (an Interview with The Man)

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In my years as a vandweller, I’ve lived in four full-size conversion vans: three Chevy G-20s and a Dodge Ram. While I knew others lived in full-size vans, it was probably at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in 2015 that I realized some vandwellers live in minivans. Wow! I thought my living quarters was small, but folks who live in minivans have to make do with a bare minimum of space.

When I met The Man and he told me he wanted a minivan to live and travel in, I was surprised. Minivans aren’t very sexy! I blurted out rudely. The Man’s had been living in a minivan for a little over eight months when this interview was conducted. I decided to ask him what he likes about living in a small vehicle, what he hates, how he’s got things set up, and what advice he’d offer to other people who are considering living and traveling in a minivan.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): So my first question is, why did you decide to buy a minivan to live and travel in rather than a full-size cargo or conversion van?

The Man (TH): Ah, well, the main reason was gas mileage…

RTA: Did you ever live in or travel in a full-size van?

TH: Yes I did.

RTA: What kind?

TM: It was a Chevy Starcraft.

RTA: And how long did you do that?

TM: A couple of years.

RTA: By yourself or with other people?

TM: By myself [and] with other people. I would pick up hitchhikers and…I did a few months roll with my ex-girlfriend, we did about 3½ months in the van.

RTA: And was that difficult to live in a full-size van with other people?

TM: [long pause] You know, sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. You know, it all depended on the company.

RTA: What do you like best about a minivan vs. a full-size van? Would you say gas mileage is the deciding factor there?

TM: Well yeah, the gas mileage, but…the more I have the minivan…because my girlfriend has a full-size van…when I go to work on a full-size van, it’s really tough. [T]he things are huge, you got to  have…powerful hydraulic jacks to deal with a big giant van like that, so I think that’s another disadvantage of…having a full-size van as opposed to a minivan.

RTA: What kind of minivan do you drive now?

TM: I drive a Honda Odyssey.

RTA: What year?

TM: 2001

RTA: Why did you decide on that particular make and model?

TM: …I did a lot of research…First I bought a van and went through a terrible ordeal with it. The transmission didn’t last…When I bought it, it didn’t even last all the way home. I got the greater portion of money back for the vehicle [from the seller] for which I was very lucky…After having that experience of immediately the transmission going out, I [knew that] if I [was] going to buy a vehicle, I need[ed] to buy the most reliable vehicle or at least one of the most reliable vehicles on the road. So basically what I did was an in-depth study…and it came down to Toyota and Honda…As I was growing up…it was always Toyota and Honda were the better vehicles, and I guess things have never really changed…It was a tossup between a Toyota and a Honda…and the Toyotas were a little more expensive than the Hondas…I opted to go with the Honda which was less [expensive] but still the second best, in some instances maybe even the first best rating as far as durability, long lasting, runs for a very long time reputation.

RTA: How tall are you?

TM: I’m six foot tall.

RTA: Can you stand up in your minivan?

TM: No, I cannot stand up in my minivan. But even if I had a big giant conversion van, unless it was like one of the modern day ones like they’re making now, I still couldn’t stand up in it.

RTA: Good point! Can you sit up in your bed?

TM: No I can’t sit up in my bed, but I do have it arranged where I can make one of the corners in my minivan sort of like a place I can…One of the things about getting inside of a van seems that it takes a very long time or for me it’s taken a very long time to arrange things in such a way that it’s optimal for what I’m doing or how I want to live…One of the things I realized is that if I pack all my clothes in the back of the vehicle, I could also create a back rest. So I recently began putting all my stuff in the back because I can sit up I can…partially sit up with a back rest I’ve created with my clean and dirty clothes.

RTA: What is your sleeping arrangement?

TM: I just have a cot. I bought a cheap cot the first time, and it was a very bad mistake. I didn’t go with the highest grade cot but I did go with a mid-grade cot.

RTA: You mean the replacement cot?

TM: Yeah.

RTA: The second one.

TM: Yeah. The second cot. I had to get a better cot. [The first time] I just got the $30 one off EBay, $35 or something and that’s just not durable enough. I wanted mine a little…smaller or thinner than the one I got now, but I sleep with my dog so it’s probably a good idea that I did get a bigger one…[T]his one’s holding up much, much better.

RTA: About how much did it cost you?

TM: It cost me around, I think about 65, 70 dollars, about a $70 one.

RTA: And so you’ve taken out all the back seats in the van, is that right?

TM: Yeah, and in the Honda Odyssey, the back seat folds down into the floor so I’ve left that in place [in the floor] and I just put the cot to one side. Now…when I chose what side to put the cot on…it seemed more reasonable that I put it on the passenger side because when I usually park the vehicle, the driver door is pointed toward me so I’m always gaining access from the driver’s side so…it made more sense to put the bed over on the passenger side of the vehicle.

RTA: Describe your setup. Like do you have a kitchen, do you have a bathroom? You’ve already talked about where your bed is positioned. Where do you have storage?

TM: …Actually I have plenty of room in my vehicle now that I’ve decided to pile most of my stuff in the back…I could put a lot more stuff in there now. I only packed it up to the bottom…of my back window because I still want to have…as clear access as I can for my rear view mirror so I only stack it up that high. I have plenty of storage, but then again, I’m a real minimalist…so I don’t have a lot of things.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in the van?

TM: No. Not everything I own. I own a few things outside of what I travel with. I could travel with everything that I own at this point…

RTA: Do you have any sort of kitchen set up in the van?

TM: You know, I’m not a big guy on the kitchen thing and I have just a one burner…that takes a one-pound [propane] tank that you can buy at Wal-Mart and I just use the one burner and a big cast iron skillet to cook out of…I just have that back in the back in a milk crate.

RTA: And what about bathroom? Any sort of bathroom setup?

TM: You know, I’ve had bathroom setups in the past, and I would acquire a bathroom setup if I was in a position where going to the bathroom wasn’t easily accessible…I’m not opposed to—if I’m camping I’ll just go dig a hole if necessary. But for the most part only in certain circumstances do I arrange a toilet situation. Other than that I just dig a hole, or I’ll go to a convenience store…

RTA: Do you ever wish your rig were larger or are you satisfied with things the way they are?

TM: Well, you know, there’s pros and cons to everything, Of course I wish my rig was larger but then, you know, I have to think about maneuverability and really the gas…When choosing a vehicle, really what it comes down to is…what kind of lifestyle do I want to lead? Ok, I want to be a nomadic traveler. I want to do a lot of traveling. Well, then, you know, if you’re doing a lot of traveling and you’re on a budget, I would suggest…getting a minivan…But if I was a person that…wasn’t too focused in on the traveling part, just living cheaply and…staying…mostly still, well then I would opt for  a larger vehicle. But here’s where I’m at…my personal thing…if I was going to go and pay the money that  a big Chevy G20 or [some] giant conversion [van] requires in gas, then I wouldn’t…even get…a giant van. I would get, especially in my condition, the height factor here, I wouldn’t even get a van. I would get myself a small RV, preferably not like a Dolphin…preferably something with a V8 in it…And of course, that’s what I would plan on doing when I was older…and I didn’t want to do as much traveling, well then I could get myself a motorhome and then stay more stationery and fuel [wouldn’t be] such a big issue.

RTA: Tell me about your curtain setup.

TM:  Well, I’ve…got these handles…the “oh-shit” handles…

RTA: [giggles]

TM: … some vehicles have ‘em by the upper part of the door, something…to grab ahold of if you’re on some rough terrain. Well it just so happens that my vehicle has two, one at the driver’s and also one on the passenger’s… I don’t understand why the one’s there for the [driver]…Who’s driving a car while he’s got one hand on the…“oh shit” handle.

RTA: [more laughter]

TM: But anyways, I…found these extremely long bungees and [my vehicle] is also equipped with rear [seat belts] and…I was able to take those very long bungees and stretch them all the way from the front of the car to the rear of the car, attaching them around the “oh shit” handles and the seat belt…housing in the rear. When I put those up there…I could just drape things over and create curtains for like 15 bucks. It was a good deal and I think even if you didn’t have those “oh shit” handles you could just do it around your visor, you could attach these bungees around your visor…

RTA: So you attached these bungees and then you found some blankets on sale, right?

TM: Yeah, they were $2.50, and they were like…What do you call…?

RTA: Fleece. Fleece.

TM: Yeah, like fleece.

RTA: Like fleece throw blankets.

TM: Yeah.

RTA: So you just put those [fleece throw blankets] around all the windows and you have a little nest back there.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. It was a really simple, cheap solution. You gotta be creative! Gotta be creative!

RTA: When I first heard that you were interested in getting a minivan, I remember saying, “Minivans aren’t very sexy!” What do you have to say about that?

TM: I’ve never had a concern with being sexy. I guess when you know you’re sexy, then there’s no…doubt. I don’t need a van to reflect my inner sexiness that I already possess.

As far as that goes, you know, I like my van and to be quite honest with you, I think it’s [quite a bit] stealthier than a G-20. A lot of these G-20s are getting old now and…hippies are really associated with G-20s too…I don’t think they’re as stealthy as people think, but…my Honda Odyssey looks like the [suburban soccer mom housewife]  car, and I think I could get away with a lot more stealthiness that way than a person in a G-20.

RTA: Is there anything else you want to add?

TM: There’s always the donation button.

RTA and TM: [boisterous laughter]