Friday, November 17, 2017

Buncha rambling on about a camp stove.

I drank eleven beers last night. But on a positive note, I fixed my camp stove. I use it every day. It's an isobutane "canister" stove that uses the fuel cans that you can find at outfitters or a Walmart. I use the camp stove right next to the normal house stove. Sure, that's a little odd, but I prefer it and I do what I want. I'm living in a house with other people, and I like to have one bowl, one spoon, one pot, one mug, etc. I can't understand why people use fifty thousand dishes. How is that a good idea? How has that become normal? I have one bowl. I don't use plates, and I almost never use a fork. Pizza? Bowl. Also, I cut pizza in strips. You can eat salad and spaghetti with a spoon. Actually, if I ate much spaghetti, I might try to locate my fork.

Back to the stove. The history of the stove. I got it in Burlington Vermont, a wonderful place, at the Outdoor Gear Exchange. I was on tour with Mini Band. I miss touring in a band, but not enough to pursue it. Mini Band was my best friends. It's been ages, but I would start that right up again.

Back to the stove. I got it at the Outdoor Gear Exchange, where I also found my main sleeping bag (not the lightweight backpacking one, but the one I use often in my van.) I also got my big orange 1970's external frame pack. It was hanging up on the wall, and the price was $14. I really can't see hiking with any other pack.

So now that I'm recalling this, it seems that I got most of my current gear at a small shop in Burlington long ago. Actually, the pack I got a few years later, not on tour with Mini Band. I was killing time in Burlington after a bicycle tour. It's a shame it gets so cold up there. The summers are incredible though.

Back to the stove. I think it was also $14. Everything in the store was $14. Okay, it wasn't. I also got a lightweight warm weather sleeping bag at the Outdoor Gear Exchange. I forget what that cost, but it was not $14. I used it on my cross country tour in 2011, and I was awake and freezing for many nights. I used that sleeping bag to death. It is no longer with us, but the cheap used one will probably be with me for life.

So the camp stove. It's a "Northern Lights" isobutane stove. I use it every single day. The fuel canisters are $7 for a big one, and they last well over a month. I use the stove in the van, on the Appalachian Trail, in the park... having one portable burner is a beautiful thing.

So the point here is that eventually these stoves get internal carbon buildup which makes the flame impossible to control. I limped along with it for a month. I'd be cooking some eggs or heating water for instant coffee, and the flame would get very low. I'd shake the stove and canister, and the flame would perk back up. The issue was intermittent, but the frequency increased.

I took the whole stove apart - everything unscrews into a few simple solid parts. I tried cleaning it, but I couldn't figure out the issue at first. My time is essentially valueless these days, so instead of getting a new stove, I doubled down on my efforts to sort it out. I don't want a new stove. I have memories with this one. Some internet searching led me to conclude that the jet was clogged. What the hell is the jet? It wasn't hard to figure it out. It's the brass piece with an almost microscopic hole. No wonder it gets clogged. The jet can be unscrewed using a 7mm wrench. It is a solid machined part.

The hole is much smaller than my thinnest sewing needle. At first I was stumped. Then I got an idea. I pulled a bristle out of a wire brush, and poked it into the jet. A tiny ball of lint came out. How did that get in there? In any case, the stove is as good as new.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Making it muddy; making it clear.

Heaps of Mud.

I'm having an of out of body experience. I don't know who I am, and I am pulsing with anxiety. I haven't been making any money. My bookseller self employment feels unbearable. I am useless at all tasks that I do not want.

I quit drinking on November 7th. I forced myself to take one day off. I didn't try to full-on quit, but I clung desperately to the momentum. A few days in, I started calling it a Quit. It wasn't hard until now. Now it is impossible. This Quit will be forgotten. Just a thing I do sometimes. I have no fucking idea how normal people live.

I am an unbelievably privileged human. I should delete all of this. I would be screaming if I wasn't feeling defeated. Deflated. Furious. Overwhelmed. Alone. Stupid.

I'm not so sure I'm interested in living at the moment. I'm going to continue regardless. Curiosity. Absurdity. Convenience. Hope.

This is some real fucking shit here. All I have is time, and nothing can ever get done. I need a purpose. All of this will blow over, only to return again soon.

I need somebody to make decisions for me. (But I would disagree and resent that.)

I need to remember to shower and eat. (Fuckit I'm not dead.)

Does everybody decide who they are, or is that mostly out of our control? Am I a shapeshifter? Why don't I know who I am? I am a pile of various essences. Why is it getting worse? This is something I would like to articulate better. Are these thoughts important? I almost doubt it. I am actually doubting it matters. One foot in front of the other. Nobody knows anything, and neither do I.

Have my recent times of happiness been a product of alcohol, even when I am not drunk? How awake am I? I have nothing to compare to. I have no idea if my thoughts and feelings are important, or whether they ought to be ignored.

Will everything feel like this in 10, 20, 30, 40 years? Or will I eventually get a grip?

Oh!, the luxury of having the time and privilege for introspection of dubious value....

I wouldn't mind dating or making local friends - but I'm always leaving "soon." Maybe I confuse changes of location with changes that heal the mind. I'm confused about sexual orientations and gender identities, but I'm a close enough fit that I suppose I don't mind. Not my personal battle. Another curiosity to toss on the pile. Pyre.

People shouldn't write these thoughts down in public. I know better, but still feel compelled. I am not even proud of how I am expressing myself here. I should delete this and punch myself right in the face. Instead I will edit the scraps, and probably read it again later on my phone.


A Sprinkle of Water.

1) Most of this is probably, stupidly, money related. I don't know what my strategy is. Do I keep trying to keep the book business afloat? I'd love to jump ship and make money by sewing, but that seems increasingly like a pipe dream. I'd like to get a job helping to construct sheds and outbuildings, but where and when will I do that? Knowing the answer will help.

2) I'm not crazy about Texas, but I haven't been here long, and I brought a hell of a lot of stuff. If I was just living in a van, I might drive away. But I have most of my tools, two vans, and a rented room full of sewing machines and similar stuff. I truly need to figure out what my plan is. Staying or going, and what does that look like?

3) Heath insurance is murdering my savings. Between health insurance and rent, I am hemorrhaging money. I am paying more than I should be for heath insurance, because of past tax issues. The government insists I make more than I do, and I find it very difficult to create a system to prove otherwise. These matters are my Achilles heel. A normal person could manage to deal with this. This is where I start to get very frustrated with myself. And angry at the government for these confounding and confusing and convoluted processes.

4) I feel like I need to simplify further. Even at this capacity, I am overwhelmed. I cannot handle much. I just want to wake up and be alive. I want clarity when it comes to knowing what is expected of me. "Normal people" tasks have always been impossibly hard.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bicycling North In 2008: Some Parts I Should Have Wrote Down [sic]

I was remembering a bicycle trip from 2008. The parts I wrote down are the parts I forgot. It's been almost ten years now. My memories have better frames. This was my first tour riding alone. The parts that stick with me are the ones written here.

I was 25, and the photo of me in the driveway is audacity. A clean kid in a pink tie dye. Mom took a picture of me, and we all pretended I was ready to go.

I slept at Nat's house in Philadelphia. I pulled my knee on the way there. I ate shrooms and stayed for two days.

On Nat's advice I got a knee brace, and that worked fine to get me to Rahway, New Jersey. The sun was going down and I didn't know where to sleep. I found a bushy sphere of a tree to hide under, but I didn't get any sleep. I was next to a river and a train. The mud on the riverbank had the smell and consistency of shit. An equal distance on the other side of me was a road. There was a bus stop right there. A cop pulled someone over, and his lights lit up the the twig-like branches as I laid on my back under the tree.

The knee brace chafed my leg worse than the original problem, so I took it off the next day and didn't have much trouble after that. I was following the East Coast Greenway, or what it was at that time, which was unchecked cue sheets that seemed to lead in circles. By the time I got to Worcester Massachusetts, I was thoroughly done with those sheets. I switched to directions from an outdated book about cycling the Atlantic coast.

It was the middle of summer and I wore socks that looked like sleeves cut off a wool sweater. I wore them every day, and I mashed the soles into felt. When I got back to Philadelphia I ate more shrooms and talked to Mark. I couldn't tell if I was just tripping. But Mark confirmed what I thought. My feet looked like something off a cadaver. Right trip; wrong socks.

I stayed with my friend Dylan in Worcester. I stayed with my friend Nick in Beverly, Mass.

The book was outdated but better than the untested ECG cue sheets. I had an invitation to stay with someone who worked for the Greenway - a route planner who worked in the office. I was frustrated with the directions and felt awkward on the subject. I tempered what I said to be polite to the Cause. We went for a beer. I saw his reaction when I got a second pint. He was the type for one.

I told the worker from the East Coast Greenway that I was "impervious to disaster" when the subject of safety came up. He repeated this back to make sure. He found great humor in this statement, especially after drinking a beer. I understood, but I meant it. I was in my element. I drank on benches and slept in parks. I fell in love with something every other day.

Bar Harbor found me eating a bagel and drinking half whisky half coke. I had my sleeping bag drying and a man with a mandolin played old hobo train songs. He had a radical sunburn and a beautiful voice. I washed coffee grounds off deli meat I found in the trash.

A young man asked me if I knew where to get weed. I said I didn't, but keep me in mind if you find it. We got to talking and I found out he had just gotten married. I met his wife. They invited me to stay at their rented cabin. They were even younger than me and they'd been friends forever. We stayed up until dawn drinking a handle of rum.

I met Ravi in Waldo Maine. I asked for directions and he invited me in. I am a safe person but I didn't look safe. He should have sent me on my way. I declined his hospitality because I saw he had a tiny daughter who only recently learned how to walk. Earlier in the year I was exploding cans of Steel Reserve on wall behind a movie theater. He should not have invited me in.

I got the sense he wanted me there more than I wanted to stay. I accepted his hospitality, though I knew this meant abstaining from the cold sweaty bottles clanking in the tops of my bags.

Ravi introduced me to his wife and his daughter. He fed me an omelette and fresh pineapple. We got a sense of each other, and I liked him very much. I showered and slept in a bed. The blanket had an enormous amount of loft, because Maine. I woke up at 5:30am when Ravi brought me a steaming mug of tea. "Don't get up" he whispered. He was leaving for work, and wanted to bid me goodbye.

His wife had washed and folded my clothes. She and I sat civilized and chatted over breakfast, as their daughter toddled adorably about.

I rode to Bangor and found nothing. A man wearing a garment spoke to me outside the library. I treated him like a human, and we discussed the universe. My stance was and always will be that almost every human thinks they know a lot more than they do. I am a believer in our ignorance. God may well be, but who are we to know it? We got a sense of each other, and I liked him very much.

Tired of Maine, I took a Greyhound to Montreal. I rode up the mountain in the early hours, and tried to get sleep on a bench. The morning air was chilly, but when the sun rose properly I absorbed it. By evening I was in a drum circle. The 40's in Canada are cheap fortified Labatt. I got a quarter of a palm of weed from a Jamaican guy for five bucks. I was prepared to enter the woods.

The next morning I rose and cycled. I felt my way clumsily toward the P'tit Train du Nord. The crushed limestone cyclepath leads north for days of riding. The path connects scenic villages and towns. It would be bucolic, weather permitting, but gray skies and low temperatures seemed always afoot.

I was caught in rain and under-prepared. Inexperienced. Nothing ever quite got dry after this.

When the P'tit Train ends, you are left beside a highway. You can ride on the shoulder for two or three days. My next plan was to get up to Val D'or. I remembered what it was like last time I rode on this shoulder, so I opted for a thumb instead. First I got drunk on something mid-proof and strawberry. I had a ride almost instantly then.

A long tanker truck took the shoulder. I hadn't been fishing for truckers, but one got caught in my net. He helped me hoist my bicycle onto a hook meant for a fat hose on the front of the tank. Premium. We were on our way, and I would cut miserable miles out of my trip.

The trucker was a polite and clean man. He was a native English speaker. He was thin, with a neatly trimmed beard. He struck me as a bit of a nerd, actually, but I like the sense I got of him very much. I hadn't been sleeping or eating properly, and now after nearly a month it began to catch up. The bed in the cab was offered to me, because I was falling asleep sitting up.

The trucker woke me up when we arrived at a small hotel where he intended to spend the night. I had drooled on his pillow. I had slept like the dead. He put his hand on my shoulder and shook me gently. He waited patiently a moment as I remembered where I was. It was nighttime now. It was time for me to continue.

During daylight he had mentioned his wife and family. Now at night, he looked in my eyes. He paused too long as I looked in his. He wanted to protect me, but that wasn't everything. He wanted to kiss me but he wouldn't risk it. I made the same calculation, but it was risky. He helped me get my wheels back on the ground. We shook hands and said goodbye with both of our hearts beating quickly. We both pretended not to feel horribly alone. One last look, and he exhaled; uneven and deeply. I regret letting go of his hand.

I camped out a few miles up the road behind a billboard. The air was a mist of dew. My pillow was a damp jacket. I pulled my damp sleeping bag as high as it would go. I awoke early in the morning and found slugs in my shoes. I made a note to keep them with me in the bivy from now on.

I rode toward Val D'or beneath persistent gray skies. A man gave me a ride when I wasn't even asking. His old Town and Country minivan had the wood-style sides. He dropped me off at the community center for Indians. He brought me inside. He was important there in some capacity. He assured the folks behind the desk that it was ok that I was white. He helped me log in as a guest on an old computer with a CRT monitor. I didn't remember asking for any of his assistance, even back from when he gave me the ride. But I didn't want to let him down, so I checked my email - all bullshit - and I thanked him very much for his help.

I tried to dry my bag out in the lobby of the library. I draped it over a railing and began to fall asleep in a chair. This offended one worker who huffed at me in French, until another man strode up and told him to fuck off. The second man was maybe slightly more important, and he told me in English to stay as long as I wanted. I could have kissed him, but our relationship was purely professional.

I found a giant coke-dealing Cree Indian at the bar. I accidentally sat near him, and he took me under his arm. He was plastered while the sun still had purchase in the sky. He took me into the street and put his arm on me once again. Then he looked up and gestured broadly to the sky. "I... hhhave....... EV - ER - Y... THIIIIIIIING!" I was not convinced. He bought me more beer and invited me to play pool. He was scary, and he looked at me as though I had no choice. He went to take a piss, so I chugged the beer, and rolled elsewhere by bicycle at once.

My loose plan was to go to Nemaska. A Cree Indian village to the north. There would be no services for many days, so I would need plenty of supplies to get there. My bag was still wet, and I was drunk, and I began having doubts about how impervious I was.

Many pints later, as the sun was setting slowly past 10pm, I raced north to find somewhere to sleep. The spot I selected seemed fine at first, until a cloud of mosquitoes stormed in. In the waning light, wide awake, sweaty, with a damp bag draped over me, I inched deeper into the musty bivy to get further from the screen flap - where millions and millions of mosquitoes stood menacingly and buzzed.

Fuck. This. Shit.

I unzipped the flap, grabbed my sleep shit under one arm, and had it strapped to my bicycle in ten seconds flat. I took a running leap onto the pedals and raced back to town. An hour later, I heard acoustic Pink Floyd coming out of a bar, and went in for a few more pints. A Quebecois cover band played all of Dark Side of the Moon.

I woke up in my bivy sack on the edge of town. My bicycle was next to me where I'd crashed it in a pit of sand. A lady was walking her dog, and the sun was bright, and I decided to get a bus ticket home.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Not exactly at the top of my game.

I went on the Thursday bicycle ride again. The ride is the best thing I have going for me in Austin. I met a guy toward the end of the ride - he was on a borrowed cruiser bike drinking a Lone Star. He was wondering where we were and why everyone was loafing around on some basketball court. I explained that from my experience, this is part of the ride. There is a stopping point about three quarters of the way through so that everybody can drink more beer and smoke more weed. Last week it was in a park across from a police station. Clearly this sort of behavior is accepted in Austin. A hundred people with open containers making clouds of reefer smoke? Ain't bothering nobody. No problem. (Just don't litter.)

The dude I met was visiting from Eugene Oregon. This got me to thinking: why the fuck aren't I in Eugene Oregon? I love it there. Is Oregon really that much further than Texas? I shoulda gone to Oregon. God Damnit.

Shit got horrible for a few days. My mood went in the toilet and I stopped talking much and got real angry and fed up. All the feelings of being overwhelmed and unwelcome flooded in. Uncertain. Incapable. Smart in the wrong ways. Too stupid to recognize obvious patterns. Unable to exist. Unable to remember to breathe.

Shit got horrible. Shit is similar to that right now. I need to quit drinking again, or slow down the tap. Alcohol is eating my brain again and I'm not liking the results. Fuckit. I guess that's what I'm trying to say.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"How are you doing?" is all that it takes.

I went on that Thursday night bicycle ride again. I brought plenty of beer along this time. Now that I know what the scene looks like, I came better prepared. Like last week, I was hoping to meet new people. Riding with hundreds of folks through the streets of Austin is good enough for me, but meeting some new friends would be that much better.

I figured out the trick for meeting people. What you do is ask "how are you doing?" Nobody wants to talk first. Gobs of people want to meet other people. They are more than happy to talk, but most will not speak up first. I've tried the "silent and aloof" approach, and it has always been far less successful.

So I asked a couple people how they were doing. It worked way better than I expected. I met some new people who I like. I am thankful for bicycle rides with a party atmosphere. The Thursday ride is making my quality of life a shit-of-a-lot better these days. I honestly wonder what the fug else I'm doing right now. Buying vintage sewing machines on eBay is one thing.

Friday, October 20, 2017

I moved to Austin Texas, started sewing, and resumed bicycling.

I'm making changes: New location. New projects. Better life. 

Instead of selling my Big Blue stripe van, I decided to drive it down to Texas and keep it. It's parked in my friend Moe's backyard. I am renting a room inside the house. I was sleeping in the house for a couple weeks, but then I turned that room into a full-on sewing studio. I sleep in my van, I ride a bicycle, and it is glorious.

The Sienna minivan? I flew back to Pennsylvania and I drove it back to Texas. Now I have a giant semi perma-parked van to live out of, and a Sienna minivan as my car when I need to drive one. I can travel and sleep in either one. I'm not saying it makes a ton of sense, but this is working for me. I like this. Bottom line: I'm glad that Big Blue is still in my life.

Readers might recall that I planned to start rehabbing travel trailers with Moe. Upon return to Texas it became pretty obvious that that plan was not going to get off the ground. We didn't talk much about it. It was simply clear that travel trailers were not happening. I brought all my tools, but it's not gonna happen.

About this sewing.

I brought a sewing machine to Austin, and I set about trying to make a zipper pouch with a lining for practice learning how to properly sew. Then I made a second pouch. Then several more. That was about two weeks ago, and now I have a new sewing machine, and I've made over 130 zipper pouches. I have fabric cut out for 120 more. I can barely make time to type these words.

I'm tired of selling books on Amazon. I'm not that interested. It leaves no space for self expression. I am much more excited to live a life of novelty and whimsy. I want to sell zipper pouches. I think it's funny. I challenge myself to have the moxie to do it.

I don't exactly know how to sell zipper pouches, but I believe that a good start is to make A LOT of them. Working in large batches allows me to hone my efficiency. Sewing for many hours at a time is leading to straighter and faster stitches. I am obsessed, and it feels great. When I am done working, sometimes late at night, I watch sewing and quilting tutorials on YouTube. Then I research sewing machines.

Sewing zipper pouches reminds me of two things: Learning how to fix bicycles, and building the Condiment Packet Gallery. Those are two activities that put me into hyperfocus mode for years. I have reverence for these simple machines which have changed little in the past 100 years. I find it meditative to create a process which produces hundreds of unique colorful rectangles. Like with my condiment packet collection, no two zipper pouches are the same. I'm not sure if it will stay that way, but for now I'm tickled. I am amusing myself. I am having a blast.

For a minute there, I wasn't riding my bicycle. It happens. I was sewing all day, and I wasn't getting away from the house. I don't know many people in Austin, and staying inside all day doesn't help with that. Two days ago, I hopped on the Hoopty and rode downtown. It's about 30 minutes there, and 40 minutes back. The route isn't perfect, but it certainly ain't bad.

Bicycles!

Last night I went downtown again to join up with a weekly bicycle ride. Hundreds of people participate in the ride. There are tall bikes, and many people with stereo scenarios blasting various music. There are costumes and colorful lights. I arrived at the spot, put down my double kickstand, and sat on a concrete picnic table. I observed quietly with an inward grin.

Minutes later, a guy about my age pushed an old bicycle close to my table and said hi. I wanted to be social, but I'm not good at first contact. I knew his 'hi' was simply an acknowledgement of proximity, but I moved on it. I asked if he'd been on the ride before. Yes? I haven't, because I just moved here. I don't know anybody. He'd moved here once himself. He knew the feeling.

My friend whose name I never bothered to get packed a bowl and offered green hit. Yes, I do want a hoot, but probably later when it won't make me feel awkward, and I can be alone watching sewing videos. Of course I didn't say that. "Yes, thank you" was my reply. I got good and funny, and when his friends arrived, I drifted about twenty paces elsewhere. Luckily, one of his friends was an angel. He was dressed like Mario (the 'theme' of this particular ride was 'Mario Kart') and he yelled over at me in a friendly manner.

"Hey, man! You want a beer in that hand?"

Fuck. Yes.

I was happy to see that this is exactly the type of ride I hoped it would be. It was like the Denver Cruisers ride I happened onto in 2011. There were joints, spliffs, bowls, beers, and bicycles. Everyone had a great time, and we covered far more territory than I expected. Traffic rules, for the most part, were respected, and some experienced ride leaders kept the whole gaggle on course and re-united split groups after traffic lights. I will be there next week.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Call me up if you're a nomad. (To the tune of that Pink track.)

I couldn't do much work. Not recently. Too lit, I suppose. I've been floating for a spell, and I can't report a volume of wind in my sails.

I'm sitting here listening to music. I'm pumping stitch after stitch through the edge of a rug that is destined for my van. The Sienna.

I carved all my long-lost belongings out of the interior of Big Blue. My previous abode. The tall and stalwart wanderer. I almost left my EZ-Pass. I almost left my wedding ring.

This fucker is shaping up. Can I speak freely? Thank you. I used to use wood and glue and screws. Now I adhere with zipties, rivets, shock-cord, fabrics, and thread. There is a learning curve. It is buzzing around my head like 999 bees.

Call me. My name is Chris.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Update on my vandwelling status.

Summer has become a reality, so I am fully alive. It doesn't get dark until 9 o'clock. There has been plenty of sun. Thus: I am a happy dude. I am spending most of my days in Kennett Square dealing with a balance of travel preparations and work.

I am in the middle of a big switcheroo. I'm typically pretty bad at dealing with any sort of to-do list. It's not that I can't focus - it's that I can't control what I am focused on at any given time. Finding a balance between projects and work is rough - but I'm managing. I need to balance three things: 1) Fix the old van and sell it. It's in the shop with some kinda fuel issue that is making it hesitate and stutter sometimes. 2) Get the Toyota Sienna into livable travel mode. It also needs a little mechanical work. 3) Work. Make money. I've been slacking hard, and my income is starting to reflect that.

Chilling out in the back of the Sienna is pretty rad. I have almost nothing in there. I sit around in there and watch movies on my laptop at night. I took out all the seats, including unbolting the back seats and removing them. Now there is a big pit in the back where the seats used to fold flat into the floor. That's going to be a storage area with plywood lids over it to create a level floor.

Some bug screens and ventilation would be a big help. A roof fan is on the way. I could have used that on the second night I was sleeping in the Sienna. I woke up and the air was all stuffy, so I opened the side door. I immediately fell back asleep and woke up an hour later with many mosquitoes hard at work. Not optimal. Luckily, I was in my parents' driveway, so I just got up and went inside to sleep.

Who knows. I think the little van is going to be a fantastic road home. Owning a quiet, smooth, small vehicle is a welcome new experience. I can't wait to get it set up the way I want it so I can finally see if it is too small or not. If it is too small, I will still keep it for 6 months or a year and see if I can adapt. If it is not too small, then I will simply be the King Of The Planet. Either way, I will have a camperized Toyota Sienna for awhile, and lessons of some sort will be learned.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Project Minivan-imalism: I bought a 2007 Toyota Sienna.

Living in a van is exceptionally easy. I never bought much stuff, and recently I've been learning that I want even less. My previous van was absolutely enormous. My belongings filled only a small percentage of the cavernous interior. With a fresh Pennsylvania inspection, and some ongoing mechanical and structural concerns, I've decided that now might be a good time to sell. Now might be a good time to downsize; to try something new.

I bought a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan. It is invisible. Can you see it in the photograph below? Look closely: it is such a monumentally boring car that you might miss it at first glance.

Who van dis?

I've never lived in a minivan before. This is an experiment. It's a gamble. I am moving all of my shit from a huge van into a tiny one. I feel confident that this is a step toward improving my already-wonderful life, but I am far from certain. Worst case scenario, I burn everything to the ground and go dig a hole in the woods. To live in. Or die in. Doesn't matter.

Pros of living in a minivan (as yet untested):

1) Stealth. Nobody expects anybody to be living full time in a minivan. The likelihood of police harassment is practically zero. I have never worried much about stealth - in my last van, it was pretty visibly evident that there was some type of jackass inside. I have a huge weed leaf tapestry inside the side doors. Nay - I am not concerned much about stealth, but being more incognito means more parking opportunity. Finding better spots easier is good. Being small and invisible helps.

2) Fuel Economy. This would top most people's list, but I have calculated this only as a fringe benefit. I don't drive enough to create a meaningful disparity in yearly fuel costs when comparing a full-size van to a minivan*. However, I would be happy to burn less gas. Sure, I'll take it.

3) Ride quality. In many scenarios, I love driving a big van. I sit way up above the road. I can see over cars, and I am nearly at the same height as big rigs. King of the highway. However, for short trips and rough roads, a giant old van is not ideal. I don't enjoy driving a huge van around all day while stopping at multiple locations. City driving just plain sucks. Minivans are more nimble. The ride is almost unbelievably smooth. Minivans drive like a comfortable car.


Cons of living in a minivan. 

1) Can't stand up. In the big van I can stand up and walk around. It is truly huge. I will need to adapt to putting my pants on sitting down. I will need to do more scooting and less walking. However, everything will be much closer - so I won't need to stretch or scoot very far.

2) Less badass. In the big van, I feel like a badass. I feel like it gives the impression that I have a lot of guts and DIY skills to buy a huge van, modify it, and then park along streets and never pay for housing. All of that will be true of the minivan, but at a glance my existence will appear more humble and less extreme. People will not be as jealous. I like it when people are jealous of me.

3) Can't have humans over. Not as many humans, or as often. I can host people in the big van, and we can have a small party inside. The minivan is big enough to have one person over to watch a movie or sit and talk for awhile. I could have another human spend the night, but even in the big van, having overnight guests was something of a compromise.


There is work to be done.

I spent last night in the minivan. My 4" thick tri-fold mattress is 33"x72". That leaves 15 inches beside the mattress, and 24 inches between the foot of the mattress and the base of the driver's seat. The rear seats fold flat into the floor, so if they are completely removed, there is a big open storage space in front of the back hatch. I assume this is where I will put a house battery for a small solar setup.

The Sienna has two rear sliding doors. The windows in the sliding doors can be lowered. All of this allows for a huge amount of cross-breeze. However, mosquitoes and such exist, so I will need to make bug screens, and I don't have a solid plan for that yet. I need to create airflow while all of the windows and doors are closed. A roof vent with a strong fan would work great, but standard dome vents tend to ruin the stealth on an otherwise invisible vehicle. I have some ideas for homemade low-profile roof openings, but I have not made a full design yet.

I'll mention that I paid $5500 for the Sienna. Full disclosure. It's the most I've spent on a vehicle since my very first van in the early 2000s. The higher cost makes me slightly more hesitant to start cutting huge holes in the roof. Not THAT much more hesitant - I'll certainly do it - but I will feel fully aware that cutting a hole in the roof is the point of no return. Experimental roof openings are sure to obliterate the resale value of any family minivan.

I need to make new curtains or window coverings. I need to permanently remove the back bench seats, and build a plywood lid to go over the storage hole. I need to put carpet down over the entire back area. I need to design storage that will fit everything I need while not permanently blocking the sliding doors or the hatch.

I am making this up as I go. Two weeks ago, I was not considering a minivan. I was not considering anything less than a full-size van with a fiberglass high-top. Then I started looking at vans without a high-top. Then I started looking at minivans. Until you actually try it for yourself, it is hard to know how much space you need for living comfortably in a vehicle. This is an experiment.

I am happy. I am excited. I have a good amount of past experience living in vans, and there was also that time I outfitted a Ford Festiva for cross-country road tripping with my wife and a tiny dog. Outfitting a Toyota Sienna is only the latest experiment to see if I can further optimize my relationship with the universe. Much of that work is still internal. In the big scheme of existence and reality as we perceive it, vans remain a meaningless goof.

Logic and experience tell me that the perfect vehicle to live in is a standard-size 90's conversion van with a 16" high-top and all of the back seats removed. Curiosity compels me to try something else.


*Hypothetical fuel costs using round numbers and more miles than I drive:
Big Van: 15,000 miles / 15mpg = 1000 gallons. 1000gal @$2.50 = $2500/yr
Minivan: 15,000 miles / 25mpg = 600 gallons. 600gal @$2.50 = $1500/yr
Sure, I'll take a savings of $1000 per year - but considering this is the equivalent of $83 per month, I would say living in a bigger van is WELL worth the greater fuel cost if that is what you choose to do. Other variables speak much louder to me - the primary objective is to be happy and healthy.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My new friend Moe.

I met one of my favorite people on the planet, and I have not mentioned it here once. Having met this person could influence the course of my life, but I didn't say a word about that yet. It's time to talk about Moe.

I was drinking wine in my van in Austin. I was a little lonely. I was in a hurry to reach out - to meet new people. I was drunk and I needed to talk to someone. I called up Mike. I can always always talk to Mike. As a bonus, Mike is usually awake at the hours when one might need to make such a call. At some point while we were catching up, Mike told me that his girlfriend Cory had a friend in Austin named Moe. A close friend. Somebody who I should call and meet up with.

Cold calling a person to hang out sounded like a great idea at the time. I figured I'd get right on that. Instead, I went to sleep. I woke up sober, and was no longer in hip-shot phone call mode. I was leaving town soon, so why bother? Two weeks later, Moe texted me. She assumed I had probably left town.

What was immediately clear is that Moe is fucking hilarious. I was floored by a volley of witticisms. A few hours later, I showed up at her house. We sat on the back porch, shared the notable events on our timelines, and drank a formidable quantity of wine. I laughed so much, and had so much fun, that I actually lost track of time. What I thought was 11 turned out to be 3 a.m.

This continued. The next day I mentioned that I had errands. I needed to attend to laundry and finally take a shower. Moe assured me it would be no inconvenience for me to drop by and do that at her house. So I did. After that point, I don't think there was another day that we didn't see each other - until the day after I finally left town.

We did all kinds of shit. We built a deck using reclaimed pallet wood to go in front of her travel trailer. We drank a slew of afternoon beers while taking turns hacking at her backyard with an electric weed whacker. The deck turned out great, but the yard never got more than halfway finished. I'm neglecting to explain or share at least five-hundred more details, aspects, activities, and events. Rest assured though, that given the patience, I would have five-hundred more things to say.

I kept saying I was leaving in a day or two. Eventually, I picked a day and it stuck. I would have left two weeks earlier if Moe and I hadn't built such a strong and instantaneous rapport.

I left, and it wasn't easy. I was in a hurry to make distance and return to Pennsylvania. I convinced myself that my adventure was complete, and I reasoned with myself using variables like the weather. I missed Moe. I miss her. We could both use a sidekick. We stay in touch through phone calls and text.

Knowing Moe makes me feel 100% more comfortable with changing my base of operations to Austin. I know enough people there, and I will be happy to meet more. Friends are the only thing lacking for me in Austin, and I believe that will be easy to ammend.

I'm going to tell you the plan.

Me and Moe are going to start a business rehabbing travel trailers. We both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. The plan might work, or the plan might fail. I have nothing to lose, and I can hardly imagine being more excited to try. I don't know when I'm heading to Austin again, but I think "soon" is a good estimation. I can live in a travel trailer that is in Moe's backyard. Or I can live in my van. I almost don't care about the details. As long as I am alive and healthy and horsing around.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

We went on a two-day bicycle trip.

I knew there would be soreness and sunburn. I knew I wasn't quite ready. I waited too long to pack my gear and prepare. This is how bicycle trips always begin.

I got the invitation.

The idea was for five folks to ride to a state park in New Jersey. We would camp there, presumably drink by a fire, and return to Philadelphia the following day. I knew one of the folks, and had met two of the others; years ago and only one time. The trip was organized by Mark. I know him. The rest of the group was friends of Mark, probably all co-workers as well. I've known Mark throughout most of my life. I was invited. I am enthusiastic about bicycles, curious about people, and motivated to take more trips. Let's do this. Let's cruise through New Jersey and see what happens. Let's talk to each other and bicycle.

I prepared in my manner.

There must have been background organizing, or coordinated preparation. I was up in Maine for awhile; not focused on matters of future planning. I got back to the Philadelphia area in time for this ride, and prepared in my usual manner.

I replaced the cassette and chain on my favorite bicycle - the one - my Hoopty and friend. I replaced the stem with one that will not creak against the handlebars - a battered steel stem by Salsa from the 90's, with a substantial length and height. I re-wrapped the northroad-shaped handlebars. I have a pair of grips cut lengthwise to provide a channel for the cable housing from the bar-end shifters. Over this, I have two layers of handlebar tape, which continue all the way to the stem. The grip area is plush. I added a highly-modified set of aero-bars from the 90's. The aero-bars could be their own story: I removed the padded arm rests, cut a few inches off the straight sections, and swapped in shorter bolts to fit the quill-style interface. I am pleased as punch with the outcome.

The trip plan was simple: 56 miles to the state forest to camp. Return the following day. I planned to pack minimally while providing all the comfort I might want. I brought a one-person tent, my backpacking air mattress, and my backpacking sleeping bag. They all fit in one pannier with room to spare. I brought one extra thin t-shirt, so I could use the dirty one as a towel. I brought a bulky sweatshirt to be used also as a pillow. I brought a multi-tool and a patch kit. I packed a few food bars and not much else.

I had everything I needed in my panniers, but the top of the rack was still bare. There was plenty of space for a friend. Laugh-a-Lot Bear has been with me on previous short tours. We travel well together, and have developed a good rapport. He joined me on this trip, sitting up on the rack and held comfortably in place with a toe strap. He had a clear view of the passing scenery and motorists. He is a good friend, though quiet. His battery compartment has been empty for years.

We met at a cafe and pedaled.

I woke up in my van, strategically parked about a mile from our meeting point, in a spot that is shaded and meets all of my needs. I loaded up my gear, and made sure Laugh-a-Lot was secured, before arriving early at the agreed upon cafe. I crouched across the street and waited for loaded touring bicycles to show up. Aside from Mark, I wouldn't recognize any faces. Approximately on time, introductions were made, and coffee and bagels were eaten.

The plan was straightforward: We ride all day, following a printed set of directions, and camp at the final destination. We left. A group of five cruised over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and into Camden New Jersey. We picked our way through that area to greener vistas beyond. The sun rose to its highest position, and made itself heard on our skin. One in our group approached heatstroke, but everybody survived. We took breaks in the shade as needed.

Along the route we experienced one flat tire. There were plenty of cooks to attend to the broth. As we neared the destination, a tire exploded. It sounded like a gunshot, complete with smoke. The tire was cut severely enough for the tube to escape the incision - the tube burst like an overfilled balloon in a small cloud of talcum powder. The tire was useless afterward, but the show was worth the price of admission. It didn't matter much anyway - we were within easy walking range of the campsite.

Camping with dudes.

"Hell Yes" is the feeling you get when it is time to relax. After a hot day of riding, a picnic table and a rest feel great. We moved slowly throughout the day, but arrived with plenty of sunlight remaining. Camp chores were performed in a leisurely manner. We took showers, set up tents, and purchased an abundance of kiln-dried logs from an office.

Maybe there was a discussion of food that I didn't notice. I assumed that food plans would either be discussed beforehand, or we'd stop at a grocery store nearby. I also made the assumption that everybody else would pack a huge amount of gear, so I left my stove and my kitchen items at home. As it turned out, there was a team of camp stoves and copious amounts of freeze-dried backpacker meals. I was happy to accept all that was offered.

After all hints of sunlight had disappeared, and the fire was the correct shape and size, the focus went to talking and whisky. I didn't bring a cup, so I sipped from the bottle, which put my new drinking plan in serious jeopardy. Last time I was on a bicycle trip with Mark, we killed a whole bottle, and I woke up still drunk as fuck. I pumped the brakes early on the bourbon and rye, and switched to a bat piece instead. We sat and jawed around the campfire until late. I slept well and woke up feeling reasonably peachy.

The return to Philadelphia.

The day was forecast to be a notch hotter. Our bodies were a measure more tired. We did not wake up early to get a head start. We rose in a casual manner, allowing the day and the sun to proceed at their will. Two of the group called in reinforcements. They would be picked up in a Prius deployed from the city. The remaining three of us would return by pedaling.

Being "out of shape" is subjective and relative. I could ride a bicycle without feeling miserable, but the return leg of the trip was a challenge. I looked forward to resting while the sun cooked my skin. My stomach was uneasy for most of the day. My hands were tired and began to feel numb. I began to feel sore from hours on the saddle. I find it interesting that humans can adapt to these conditions. If you ride long distances for weeks or months at a time, you find that the conditions begin to feel normal. I love the feeling of owning the world on a bicycle, but it takes time and mileage to get to that point.

The three of us arrived back in Philadelphia. We cruised at a steady pace and rested as needed. We made the trip with no incidents, but I felt considerably knackered at the end. We parted ways at the foot of the bridge. I returned to my van on Poplar.

The glorious aftermath of home.

The day was still hot, with temperatures in the 90s, when I turned the key in the ignition and headed toward Kennett Square. My body was tired and my brain was shot. I dropped onto my usual spot on the couch like a bag filled with dirty bricks. I sat with my folks who were watching the news, and made no statements longer than a few syllables. The air was conditioned, and I pushed the button on the side of the couch to recline.

I managed to mention that I was tired and sunburned and hungry. Mom listed a few things she could make me for dinner. We went to the kitchen, where I sat on a stool, as she cut cubes of chicken and drained a can of beans. She added the chicken and beans to rice, which was exactly what I needed. She added most of a jar of bruschetta to make it all even better. I ate this with taco shells as I came back to life and told her all about the bicycle trip.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Truth about Vodka and Cabins

Sometimes a memory floats to the surface. It creates ripples in the water, and I cringe. Learning how to be a sexual human was a stressful process for me. Some of my memories cause me embarrassment even today -- and I am nearly immune to embarrassment, which is why I am able to write shit like this. There is one night in particular which I remember. I am writing about it now, because I was recently on the other side of this situation. Everybody in both cases has happily survived.

I sat in a rocking chair. The chair was in a cabin, and the cabin was in the woods next to a lake. I was probably invited because I had a van. I transported a whole group of friends there, but I knew that I was not truly one. I slept outside in my van. Those who stayed inside were close with one another. They were far cooler than me, and they seemed far more confident and sexy. I appreciated being included on any level, but I could look at my feet, and know my place on this earth.

I was young. Twenty-something-whatever. My experience with sex was merely technical. I never felt passion. I was nervous, afraid, and confused. I got close a few times, and the situations fell apart. I was afraid to initiate touching, I felt apologetic about factions within my gender, I was afraid of condoms and STDs. I was drinking a lot. My head was spinning. Was I a gentleman, or a pervert? Given the opportunity to find out, my cock would decline to stay hard. Was it the drinking, or the nervousness, or the condoms, or the willing females who I had so-far found? I had no idea, so in a naive bit of reasoning I decided that I was gay.

I sat in the rocking chair, full approximately to the brim with vodka. The remaining half of a potent screwdriver made a condensation ring on a chessboard in front of me. The music was exactly correct. A boy who is universally loved, and unquestionably handsome and wonderful laid down on a bed across the room. I mentally punched myself in the stomach. I picked up the sweaty glass of mostly vodka, and threw down the rest.

I walked across the room, as calmly as I could muster. I laid down next to the boy and put my hand on his chest. He looked at me with surprise, but there was a trace of a smile and no hint of alarm. I leaned over and kissed his cheek. I leaned in again and kissed him on the mouth. He was kind about this, and put a hand on my arm. What I had done was absolutely unexpected, and raised no particular concern; but it would go no further. This was not the time or place, and I was not the correct type of bird. If I had been less competent at enduring awkward shame, I would have died there on the spot.

Plenty of years have passed since that happened. The boy who I practically attacked that night is still a credit to the human race. He never made me feel embarrassed. On the rare occasions I see him, there is always a bright smile and a hug.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Calling my wife. Talking to my friend.

I called up my wife shortly after returning to PA. I invited her out for beer and discounted cheeseburgers. She quit being a vegetarian soon after we broke up. I wanted to see her and find out what else is new.

I love my wife. I cringe at the thought of being responsible to each other, but as a person on the Earth, I hold her in the highest regard. She is a majestic buttercup. When she is not hampering fundamental aspects of my life, I enjoy her company very much. We had beers and we laughed. We talked and caught up. We know why our marriage didn't work out. It was everybody's fault, and nobody's. We will sign some papers soon and officially move on with life.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I'm moving to Austin.

I've been woken up from a dream. I woke myself up. I left Austin and returned to Pennsylvania.

I parked in the driveway in Kennett Square. The weather was perfect, and it was mid-afternoon. I entered through the screen door, and felt bizarre. It felt like I'd been away for years. I had a warm welcome from the entire family of Harnes. Even Karl was there, and my nephew Ben.

I am learning the difference between "familiar" and "home." I'm not sure I understand what home is, other than a vicinity where somebody grew up. Sure - this felt like that kind of home. I love the people who I know here, and nothing else.

I walked in with my nails painted. Nobody said anything. Nobody gives a shit. I've made a lifelong habit of being an oddball. At the age of 34, I'm not raising any new flags.

I was a happy silly girl in Austin. Half the time I was. The other half, I was a dude from Philadelphia. The Philly dude speaks low and from the throat. He is aware of his surroundings, and presumably knows how to punch. The girly one is not careful about wrist positions. She always says "goodness!" instead of "Fuck." I went from tough guy to dainty in the same conversation. It was new and peculiar, yet I suppose that's an approximation of how I've always been. This new feminine side caused me confusion at first, but quickly became my preference. I can do whatever I want. I can speak however I feel. Like many things in life, you notice yourself much more than you are noticed by others. The biggest change is almost certainly in my mind.

Pennsylvania can't provide me much. I have people here, and that is the most I can say. I don't see enough of my people, so I'm leaving. I have some loose strings here, but it's back to Austin for Chris Harne. I am establishing a new base of operations there. A new Home base - to spread my branches and consider my roots.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Met up with Mike H.

I've decided that I am probably headed home soon. By home, I mean Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

I tried to be productive today, which required wifi. I had great difficulty finding an open connection, even with my USB antenna situation. I put some books in some boxes beside the Walmart, but before long it was time to get beer.

I was walking back to my van with a 24oz Clamato. The air was hot, and the cold can broke out in a sweat. I noticed a van I know. Mike was in the parking lot in the other long blue-striped Dodge.

I intended to get one more box ready for shipment, but instead I drank tall beers with Mike. We continued that path to a bar. They had cheap Victory pints and wings.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

4/8/2017

Ten lucky minutes today will result in more profit than two well advertised book sales yesterday. That is normal. It's all part of the job. 

There was a screening at the library for a documentary about Austin's moonlight towers. There were a few open seats, so I planted myself in one. 

Sometimes I feel lonely. I bring this up, because it happened today.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

A typical day of work.

The book sale in San Antonio looked like ten dirty hands fighting for the broken chips at the bottom of a bag. I have to go to these sales, because there is money to be made. Sometimes it's ugly. But I had to get in there and extract what I could.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Everything I know about San Antonio.

I took my robot pill and worked today. Towards evening, I headed south. With San Antonio in front of me, I looked out of my van to the right. I drove during a magnificent sunset. I don't use "magnificent" lightly. But the light rose to that level today. There were many incredible yellows. The sunset was yellow, yellow, yellow.

I don't know the first fucking thing about San Antonio. The only thing I know is that there is a book sale tomorrow. When I don't know anything, I park at the Walmart. That takes the least planning. They have beer with Clamato, and you don't have to think.

I arrived late and cracked a cold can. I put food on the stove. Lentils and quinoa. I've never seen tortillas so happy. We all make an excellent group.

Sleep was elusive. I would have slept soundly, except for the noise. *BEEP, BEEP* 

"When in the fuck," I wondered "will they ever get that fucking equipment in place?"

Eventually, I had to investigate. It was two o'clock in the morning, and there was construction. A bucket lift had an alarm. The alarm beeped intermittently and often. There was no rhythm, and after an hour or so, the sound began to pierce my bones.

Q: Am I happy to be alive? 
A: Sure I am.

Q: Should you live in a van? 
A: Why not.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Plans and perspectives and chemical change.

Yeah, so I've been up and down. It's not Austin Texas's fault. This place is the shit.

I know I will go home at some point. The only uncertainty is when. I never seem to make it to Oregon. I always drive away from Pennsylvania, but I never quite make it that far.

I've considered remote desert destinations. I'm finding it hard to imagine sitting peacefully while my money source is falling apart. I suppose I got complacent and spoiled. Back in Key West, I was complacent as hell. What has changed? Only the money security? Was it something else? Well, shit. I don't know.

I considered going to a Fairy Gathering. It's almost exactly in line with my route back to Pennsylvania. I was curious to see what that's all about. It sounds wild and like a place to park a van. But whether I'm wanted or would enjoy being there is in doubt. I fit in basically nowhere. Wrong: I fit in almost everywhere, but only a little bit.

Well, fuckit. I don't like this one bit. I'm going to return to Pennsylvania once again with my tail between my legs. Once again, my business is in trouble. At least this time the trouble is not all my fault. I know: I should rephrase this. I can spin this as a success. I have places to go, and a business to fix. It will work. I know it will work, because I've been through this before.

I miss my wife. I don't want my marriage back, but I miss her. She can't help me, and I know why shit got fucked up, but at one point she seemed to understand me. I could use that type of friend.

I've done so much thinking while in Austin. More than usual. Tons of the thinking has been drenched in wine.

My current standing... my situation... my state of mind. This is a reminder that humans have difficulty keeping matters in perspective. So I'm in debt. So is everybody. I have shelter, and when I remember to eat, the food is correct. I am in a beautiful town, and it is getting warm up north. Whose life would I rather have? Nobody's. My life has the most promise. I want to see where it goes.

I have to remind myself that people don't hate me. I feel like I bother everybody. I feel like I am exhausting people, and they are all getting annoyed. I doubt these feelings are real. My brain is fucking with me. Furthermore, if people don't like me, what does that matter? It hardly changes my day. Sure, I want to be loved. I'd love to be universally revered. But I need to focus on what I can control. The correct course of action, I know, is to continue as though nothing is wrong. Pretend and wait. Seasons and feelings change. Chemicals shift in our brains.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rebuilding.

I'm digging deep for new inventory. You can't kill me this easy. This is important to me. I'm pouring money back into my business. It's one hundred thousand hands of blackjack. I am counting cards and doubling down.

I hope I can work my way up to making anything close to my income before. I'd be happy with half. I'd be happy with a third. The last few paychecks have been grim.

I can pat myself on the back today. I did my robot laser-eye routine. I am programmed well to find books that are worth money. I put my robot-body in search mode. The efforts will take time to pay off. This is my best current move.

I like parking at Walmart. A tall can of the Clamato sort is a reward for a job well done. To mix my routine up further, I got chips and salsa and cheese. I watched a movie I copied at the library. Real or not, life is good.