Tag Archives: van dwelling

Update on the 2018 RTR

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It’s just not the same, I heard a variety of people say about the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

Well, no, it wasn’t the same.

This year wasn’t the same as the first RTR I attended in 2015. That year, the people who’d been attending since the early days of the gathering were complaining—or at least observing—that the RTR wasn’t like it once was.

The biggest change is always the increase in attendance. In 2015, when maybe 100 people were at the RTR, founders of the event remembered fondly when only 40 people attended and everyone sat around the fire together and shared food at community meals.

The community meals were one of my favorite parts of the RTR in 2015 and 2016, but they were left off the schedule in 2017 because the group had grown too large for anyone not experienced in cooking for crowds to prepare soup or chili for everyone. No one stepped up to the challenge, so that avenue of socializing was no longer available to me and others who used the excuse of food as a good reason to gather and mingle.

I’ve heard varying estimates of how many people attended the 2018 RTR. I’m sure Bob Wells put up a video on his You Tube channel where he names a figure. A New York Times article about this year’s Rendezvous said the BLM estimated the number to be over 3,000. Even without knowing exactly how many people attended over ten days, I can tell you, the 2018 RTR was huge!

The RTR was already huge the day before it officially started.

I was working with my friend Coyote Sue to make the RTArt Camp happen. Unfortunately, Coyote Sue was stuck 20 miles up the road with her broke down Class C, so the task of finding the space set aside for the RTArt Camp fell to me. When Coyote Sue contacted the main RTR organizer to say I’d be arriving first, she was told no space was being held for the art camp because when the organizers arrived, early birds had taken the area that was supposed to be for us. (I have no idea if those early birds were asked to move or even told they were parked in an area intended for a planned RTR activity.)

Because no space had been held for the RTArt Camp, The Man and I were tasked with finding a good spot. It was before noon on the day before the gathering began, and people were already packed in pretty close. There was no space to accommodate several rigs plus several tables anywhere near the main seminar area.

I was growing increasingly stressed. I could handle claiming a spot that had been earmarked for me, but finding and staking out a spot on my own was not an easy task. I was really worried about picking a spot Coyote Sue was going to hate. (I shouldn’t have worried. Coyote Sue is always easygoing and believes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She is a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting her with the art camp.)

Thankfully, The Man talked to a guy who gave us the tip to immediately veer to the left after we pulled onto the music camp road. We took his suggestion and found a roomy spot in an area that wasn’t too crowded. The RTArt Camp was about a five minute walk from the main gathering area, but the necessary crossing of a quite deep wash kept some artsy folks, especially folks with disabilities, away.

Coyote Sue and I went to the seminar on the first official day of the RTR to make an announcement about the activities going on at the art camp. Literally hundreds of people were gathered to learn the basics of the RTR in particular and Quartzsite in general. Instead of letting us make our announcement first, Bob made us wait until sometime in the middle of his presentation. I hadn’t planned to stay for the seminar, but because I was there, I got to hear some of what Bob told the masses.

After asking everyone in the audience to turn off their recording devices, he said he wanted to be the only person recording and posting videos of the seminars online. Then he asked people to request permission from other folks before taking their photo or including them in videos. He pointed out that some people are in situations where it is unsafe for their image to appear online, but then said if keeping one’s image off the internet was a matter of life or death, folks in such a situation should probably leave because their safety could not be guaranteed.

Bob went on to talk a lot about how all of us there were part of a tribe and how we should be kind to each other and kind to the earth. He said he was happy to see all of us, whether we’d been on the road for 20 years or if the night before was the first time we’d slept in our car. He said we all needed each other and the most important part of the RTR was meeting people and making friends. It was an inspiring little speech, and I left feeling good, although I was happy enough to get the heck out of there after Coyote Sue and I finally make our announcement.

As in years past, the free pile was a highlight of the RTR for me. This year I was much farther from it than in years past, so I was able to check it less often. Still, I found lots of great stuff, including several bags of mostly glass beads and colorful plastic “jewels.” I took what I wanted and donated the rest to the RTArt Camp. I also got an orange t-shirt, an orange striped cloth tote bag, a bright pair of sneakers, a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (which I immediately lost, never to see again), and an easily rolled up sleeping pad from Land’s End. The Man got a really nice, large backpack (so he left his too-small Kelty backpack in the pile for someone else to enjoy), a Nalgene water bladder backpack, and a warm Carhartt jacket in pretty good condition. Jerico wasn’t left out; we got him a soft bed and a thin blanket so he can sleep comfortably and be covered but not get too hot. I didn’t find as much food as I did in years past, maybe because I was being picky about what I grabbed. (I could have acquired ten pounds of white rice, but I’d rather eat brown.) I did get a hug bag of caramel kettle corn, a can of garbanzo beans, and a jar of vegetable spice.

Privacy did turn out to be a huge concern. For one thing, even in our less densely populated area, there were lots of people. Sometimes after dark it would have been easier to squat outside to pee, but there was too much potential of being seen from the rigs all around. I wasn’t so much shy as concerned with offending people who didn’t want to accidentally see me with my pants down.

About a week into the gathering, an old guy with a drone made camp across a small wash from us. He flew his drone for hours each day. The buzz the device made was irritating, and friends camped nearby reported the man flew the drone right into or hovered over their camps several times. We assumed the drone had a camera, but we didn’t know if he was taking photos or video and if he was, if he then posted the media online.

One evening as I was cooking dinner, a young man walked into our camp with a recording device. Can I record that? he asked as he pointed his device towards the potatoes frying in the cast iron skillet.

Sure, I said, as long as you don’t record me.

I found out later that he did record me. He recorded me saying don’t record me, and put my face up on the internet saying those very words.

He apparently was recording other women too, voicing over disparaging comments about the women, then sharing those videos on the internet. My friends said he was also recording the seminars and posting them online along with his comments, despite Bob’s request that folks not record and post the seminars. When my friend contacted the RTR organizers to let them know what this guy was doing, she was told don’t let it bother you. I understand if the organizers felt there was nothing they could do to stop the guy (although I don’t know if any of the organizers sought him out to discuss his behavior), but the response of don’t let it bother you seemed to me and my friends as if the concerns weren’t being taken seriously.

One afternoon a woman approached the RTArt Camp table with her camera pointed at us. When Coyote Sue told her not everyone sitting there wanted to be in the photo, the woman went on a diatribe about how we were at a public event and we couldn’t expect privacy. She said at a public event, anyone could legally take our photos. She went on to say she understood our concern because someone had tried to film an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she’d been in at the RTR, and she’d had to shut that down.

The facilitator of the women’s meeting asked that no on record the meeting (video or audio) or take photos of the folks there. Hopefully, no one disregarded her request. She also asked that if and when men approached the group, someone get up and gently explain a women-only meeting was taking place. Instead, the men who approached the group were met with shouts and jeers. They know. They know, women muttered when men approached, believing men where purposely trying to eavesdrop and infringe on our privacy. Maybe that was the case with a few of the handful of men who walked up to our group, but I think most were just clueless. It would have been kinder—and far less disruptive to our group—if, as the facilitator had requested, one woman had quietly stood up, explained to the interloper what was happening, and requested he leave.

The first women’s meeting was huge, by the way. There must have been two or three hundred women there. The facilitator reported it was the first RTR women’s meeting where everyone in attendance did not get the opportunity to speak. Instead, new women introduced themselves, then women with lots of experience introduced themselves.  After an hour of introductions, the large group broke up to give everyone a chance to mingle. I mingled by carrying Lady Nell’s chair back to her camp and then helping some women with disabilities coordinate rides. I’m not very good at mingling with strangers.

So no, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is not the same. It will never be what it once was. It was a backyard picnic and now [it’s a] state fair, Auntie M said about the RTR. I think the gathering can still be a good place for people to learn how to live nomadically, and—probably more importantly—meet other nomads. For folks who don’t mind crowds and the possibility of having their faces recorded and shared on the internet at every turn, the RTR can be a great place to learn and network. However, I’m pretty sure my RTR days are over.

Etiquette for Interacting with Van Dwellers

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I was talking to a new full-time van dwelling friend, and conversation led to a discussion of some of the things people (van dwellers and nonvandwellers alike) have done to make us uncomfortable as single women living in our vans. As a public service as the RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous) approaches, here are seven tips on how to politley interact with van dwellers and other folks who live in an RV or other vehicle.

  • Don’t sneak up on anyone, When approaching someone’s camp, a hearty yoohoo! or hello! announces your presence. Folks don’t like to be surprised by someone in their space, especially if the visitor is interrupting private time.
  • Try not to walk through anyone’s camp. If possible, walk on a camp’s perimeter. Give rigs a wide berth.
  • If you see someone outside their rig cooking, maybe it’s not the best time to visit. Ok, to be fair, I don’t know if visits during meal preparation bother most people, but such visits really irritate me.
  • Don’t tell other people what they need to do or buy. It’s great if you’ve figured out what works for you, but something that works for you won’t necessarily solve other people’s problems. If someone asks for or seems open to suggestions, by all means share your knowledge and success, but you don’t have to put on your bossy pants.
  • Don’t take photos of people or their rigs unless you’ve asked for and received consent to do so. Certainly don’t post such photos on social media or anywhere online without permission. If you want group shots, try taking a photo of the back of the crowd. Announce your intention to take a group shot so folks who don’t want to be in it can look elsewhere or walk away.
  • Don’t peer into windows or stick your head into open doors to take a peek inside someone’s rig. If a van dweller wants you to see the inside of the rig, you’ll be invited. If you were walking through a neighborhood and saw a cute house, would you walk right up to a window and try to look in? The people who lived in the house might not want to be friends with someone who did such a thing.
  • Unless there’s a bonafide emergency, do not enter anyone’s rig unless you have asked for and received permission to do so or have been invited in. Again, imagine you’re walking through a neighborhood. If you saw a house with an open front door, would you step inside and have a look around? I don’t think so!

When a van or RV or car is someone’s home, pleast treat it that way and don’t encroach on anyone’s privacy.

Thank you.

This public service announcement brought to you by the Rubber Tramp Artist.

I took the photo in this post.

Intruder

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Someone tried to get into my van.

It was a night like any other in the Forest Service campground where The Man and I live while working at the mercantile. We’d had the day off, but we’d come back from Babylon early in the afternoon. I’d been cleaning the van all evening and was exhausted. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and more free time the next day, which we also had off from our jobs.

It was nearly dark when I left The Man in his tent and went to the van for the night. I read for a while, but soon I could barely keep my eyes open, so I turned off my Luci light and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up…or was I already awake?

I heard someone try to open either the passenger door or the side door closest to my bed. I distinctly heard the soft rattle the door handles make when they’re locked and someone tries to use them to open the door.

I’m a door locker. That’s how I grew up. My family locked the doors to the outside world when we were in the house. The Man is not a door locker. He doesn’t believe in living in fear. Sometimes we have conflict because he wants something from inside the van but can’t get in because I’ve locked the doors and he’s left his key in the tent.

When he and the dog were sleeping in the van with me, I became more casual about locking the doors. Although there’s probably less of a chance of someone trying to steal something way up in our campground on the mountain, now that I’m sleeping alone, I’ve gotten back in the habit of locking my doors at night.

My first thought upon hearing the rattle of the door handle was that The Man had forgotten something in the van (his phone, his water bottle, his coat) and had come to get it. So I was surprised he didn’t say anything when he found the door locked. (He has no qualms about waking me if he wants to get into the van.) When there was no complaint in response to the locked door, I called out, Yes? or What? or something along those lines.

I took this photo of the campground restrooms. Of course, the campground looks quite different at night.

I received no answer, but I heard footsteps next to the van. When the person came around the back of the van (I thought maybe The Man, was going to ask me to hand him my keys through a back window), I called out again, but received no response. I heard the footsteps moved to the nearby pit toilet, then I heard the distinct rattle of the toilet paper roll being moved on its holder.

I never felt afraid. I thought The Man had gotten up to use the restroom, tried to get into the van and found the doors locked, then left, maybe in a snit or maybe because he was having a restroom emergency. I figured in the morning I’d find out it had been him I’d heard. I fell back to sleep right away.

I woke up again around ten minutes to five and started working on a hat I’d begun the day before. Not long after I awoke, The Man walked up to the van, and I let him in.

Di you try to get in the van last night? I asked him. He said he hadn’t.

I told him someone had tried to get in. He acted like he didn’t believe me at first, then said I’d probably just been dreaming. I’d said, I don’t think I was dreaming, and he used that as evidence that I had been dreaming. He said he’d know if someone had tried to get into his van. He said he would have flown out of bed and kicked the door open…

I chalked it up to him not taking me seriously, but while we were getting ready to head out to the post office and he asked if I really thought someone had tried to get into the van. I said yes, I really thought someone had tried to get in the van.

Then I remembered something else: there had been no flashlight. The Man never leaves his tent at night without his headlamp. The moon can be full and I’ve got plenty of light to find my way from his tent to my van, but he uses his headlamp. If The Man had tried to get into the van during the night, he would have shined his light through the uncovered side windows.

I think whoever tried to get in assumed there was no one in the van. Most people with a tent set up on a campsite would be sleeping in the tent, not in the vehicle. The intruder must have been quite surprised to hear me start talking from inside the van.

There were campers on only two other sites that night, and the camp host was sleeping elsewhere on his night off.

The Man went up to the fellow on a site on the other side of the campground. The guy tried to ignore him when The Man said good morning. The guy seemed nervous when The Man told him someone had tried to get into our vehicle the night before. The Man advised him to be careful about leaving his belongings out.

Later, when the campers on our side of the campground emerged from their tent, The Man talked to them too. The fellow on that site said, Good morning! How ya doin’? and shook The Man’s hand. The Man told him the same thing about someone trying to get into our vehicle and being careful about his belongings. That fellow said he’d heard footsteps near his tent during the night.

Who tried to get inside my van? I can’t say with certainty, but whoever it was got the message that we knew what s/he had been up to.

I stayed behind to guard camp while The Man went to the post office, but no one came around our site. I’ve been making sure to lock my doors when I go to bed at night, and The Man has stopped giving me a hard time when the locked doors keep him out of the van.

Game Changer

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When I bought my van, the carpet was already grungy, and it definitely got worse in the three years I’ve

This photo shows my van’s dirty, stained carpet. It also shows the metal plate in the floor (lower left corner).

lived in my van home. I’ve used a series of rugs on the floor to try to hide the dirt and stains, but that typically meant I had a dirty rug sitting on top of a dirty carpet. Also I regularly spill water on the floor, and the water soaks into the carpet and leaves a wet spot which I invariably step in. Yuck!

Another problem I had with my floor was the large metal plates left behind when the seats were removed. The plates are a little higher than the floor itself, and let me tell you, it hurts to bring a knee or foot down hard on them, especially on a corner or an edge. There’s no easy way to remove the plates, so I’d been living gingerly with them since 2014.

In the back of my mind, I’d been searching for a solution.

First, Coyote Sue told me about some flooring she bought at Walmart for her RV. The pieces snap together, she said, and look like wood grain. She put the flooring down right on top of her shag carpet.

Then I saw a “winter camping life hacks” clickbait article on Facebook. Most of the tips I already knew (put a plastic water bottle filled with hot water at the food of your sleeping bag before going to bed) or didn’t apply to van life, but the last tip caught my attention. It suggested bringing the brightly colored foam squares most commonly seen in children’s play areas to cover the floor of the tent. Brilliant! Not only would the foam on the floor feel cushy, it would help insulate the tent, and any melted snow puddles could be easily wiped away. I wondered if something similar would work in my van.

The next time I went to Babylon, I checked at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the Walmart in that town is the second worst I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t find anything like Coyote Sue had described, and the foam squares offered in the toy department, while nicely colorful, were very thin and had pop-out letters I suspected would lead to nothing but grief. I decided to try Walmart.com.

This photo shows the exercise puzzle mats I bought.

I did a search with key words I no longer remember. Several results popped up, including flooring intended for exercise spaces. That stuff seemed perfect. I chose the extra-thick, 3/4″ squares because I wanted as much padding as possible over the metal plates. I had three choices of color–black, grey, and bright blue. Part of me really wanted the cheerfulness factor of a bright blue floor, but a more practical part of me decided grey flooring would show less dirt and would probably be easier to keep looking clean.

I placed my first order ever with Walmart.com, which worked out great for me. (I know lots of people have problems with Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other large corporations. I understand. I truly do. I try to do my shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, but sometimes I need an item now and don’t want to wait to maybe find what I’m looking for used. Giant corporations do make shopping easy, especially online.)

Walmart.com was super easy. I placed my order and paid using my debit card, but was not charged for shipping because my items were delivered to the Walmart store of my choice. I simply picked up my items during my regular weekly trip to civilization. (If I had home mail delivery, I might prefer to have items delivered to my door. However, while I’m work camping, my mail is delivered via general deliver to a post office fifteen miles away. The post office is only open weekday mornings, so picking up my mail is seldom convenient.)

On the day I picked up my flooring, I was excited to get back to camp to install it. “Install” makes it seem more diffictult than it was. I opened the package. I placed the squares on the floor and interlocked the parts meant to interlock. Done! Ok, The Man did cut out a piece of one of the squares so it would fit around the leg of my shelf, but he knew how to do it and completed the task in minutes. If one put down the flooring at the beginning of a build, furniture could go on top if it and no cutting

This photo shows my nice, new, clean flooring that only took a few minutes to install.

would be required.

The flooring I bought was manufactured by ProSource and is called “excercise puzzle mat.” It has a non-slip surface and is extra-thick (3/4″) and phthalate free. It’s made from water-resistant EVA foam. I paid around $30 for six squares, which covers 24 square feet. I used five squares to cover the portion of open space in my van, as well as the area between my two front seats. I’ll probably buy another six pack to cover the rest of the floor when I reconfigure and downsize my bed.

As soon as I got the flooring down, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out this solution. The metal plates are completey covered and padded. I can bang my knee on the floor where they are all day long with no pain. When I spill water, I can wipe it right up, and dirt tracked in is easily swept out. In about fifteen minutes, the interior of my van became infinitely more comfortable and better looking with ProSource exercise puzzle mats.

ProSource 3/4″ puzzle mats are available on the ProSource website, at Walmart.com, and on Amazon.com.

ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat, EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, Protective Flooring for Gym Equipment and Cushion for Workouts

I took the photos in this post, except for this last one, which is an Amazon link.

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.

 

 

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.