Sometimes your wife needs to tell you the truth. Every human has truth to squeeze out - when circumstances permit, it exudes. Our marriage is tainted. I am difficult. I might not be the worst, and I hope I'm not, but I can rain down variables. I can rain down an uncomfortable storm of rip-rap. I can make a good girl feel sad.
I took words to heart. Like a bullet, but more like a train. I'm hard pressed. I'm pressed in a general sense. Pressure. This pressure is what we have.
Money, we make. Food, we have.
Now I drink again. Today and all others I smoke pot. I use adderall to run the business we share.
All seems better. It does.
As life unfolds before me, my first instinct is to share it on this page. But my life details are no longer mine alone to share. I'm married. Not all can be public. Floundering is a personal sport.
I can do it all... I can! ... I will! ... just watch me.
My top lack is a quickness to describe. Permission. Prudence. My will to type.
UPDATE 02/03/2016: This van lost me net $200 and a drive.
I bought a van today. It was $700 plus tax and tags. It was posted on Craigslist for $800, but I'm a smooth character. I got another hundred bucks shaved off a price that I believe is already bordering on suspiciously low.
I've been looking at vans for a few months, and recently began looking for vans, taking an "eyes opened" approach to finding my next one. Being in no particular rush is helpful. People get great deals all the time. Great deals exist. I like to be proactive - ready to act quickly and decisively when the time comes. This is different than being spontaneous, but it feels the same, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
Yesterday, I searched Philly, South New Jersey, Reading, Allentown, Delaware, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. I searched for E-150, E-250, E-350, E150, E250, E350, Club Wagon, Clubwagon, G10, G20, G30, Express, Savannah, Safari, Vandura, etc, etc.
Then: I found a promising ad with no outright deal-breakers. I found what appeared to be an undervalued van that would suit my needs.
Pros: Inexpensive, it runs, 76,XXX miles, side windows.
Cons: Exhaust leak, located in the boonies, suspiciously low price. (engine block made of earwigs?)
The ad was for the 1996 Ford Club Wagon pictured above. It didn't look hammered too bad in the photos, and 76XXX miles is unusually low. Not much rust. Passenger van with no seats means that I get side windows, and I don't have to throw the seats away myself.
I called the seller, Don, and confirmed that the van definitely does run, and if interested, I would definitely be able to drive it away. He told me yes, and then explained it also had an exhaust leak. Still undeterred, I set an appointment to meet the next day.
This morning, I wanted to leave reasonably early. A van for $800 that runs and has low mileage is bound to get a lot of interest. I wanted to be first in line, because there might not be a second place, and nobody can be trusted to keep an appointment made through Craigslist.
Kristin and I headed north. We left the beaten path, and continued on small roads. We left familiar territory, and arrived in a small town tucked out of the way and surrounded by farmland in every direction. As we pulled up to the location, I realized it was a used auto dealer. That raised my hackles, because I thought this was a private sale, I was hoping that the van was simply undervalued by the seller, or the seller needed cash quickly. My chances of getting a great deal from a used car salesman seemed less. Then again, $800 isn't an absolutely insane deal for a vehicle that needs some work, and somebody just wants it gone. If it was as described, I was still interested.
I called Don, and he met me in the parking lot across the street. The van was already running, which I took as a bad sign. It isn't customary to leave a vehicle running and unattended while waiting for a prospective buyer. Probably it wouldn't start without a jump, and Don didn't bother to mention that. The exhaust leak was apparent when you hit the gas, but the engine seemed to run quiet enough. Kristin hopped in, and we took it for a short test drive. The brakes and steering and whatnot seemed to function properly. I drove back to the lot and turned off the engine. I twisted the key in the ignition again and got ClickClickClickClickClick... So something's going on there. I'm no mechanic. Battery? Alternator? Starter? Who knows. But it was still only $800, and the fundamentals seemed to be in good working order.
I wasn't planning to bargain down an $800 van, but I ended up doing it anyway. "Ehh... I don't know... would you take $600?" Don came back with $700, and we shook. I heard him talking to another interested party moments earlier, and I don't know why he didn't stand firm on the price. I would have paid it. Even with mechanical issues, market value is still much higher.
We went to the office and got the paperwork sorted. The van was jumped again, and Don reminded me not to turn off the engine when I stop for gas. Don looked less than sure that I'd make it back to Philadelphia, but I don't know whether he thought it was me or the van who might fail. All I know is I have a trusted mechanic in Philly, and a AAA Plus membership. Even if the van didn't make it for some reason, I could get it towed the rest of the way for free. Worst case scenario: I'm selling a working van in Philadelphia for an almost certain profit. This deal is somewhat of a gamble, but I am comfortable with the odds, and confident of a good result.
I dropped the Club Wagon off at Bill's, and I will wait for his call to get the straight dope on what it needs.
Probably the best course is to talk more about what I'm cooking. I have a great recipe to share with you to-day:
Beans and Eggs:
First thing in the morning, I wake up too late to even consider productivity. I keep telling myself that if I get up at 8am, I can probably knock forty-six things off my to do list. Instead, I usually get up at 10am, and accept that at least it's better than noon.
Once up, I am swarmed by a fresh to-do list; items ranging from critical to simple. Every action-possibility fights to be heard first. All at once, I am confronted with everything I am currently screwing up, and everything I will never accomplish. Theoretically, I know how to improve, but it takes me a week to clip my nails, a year to wash my clothes, and only a flash to become furious, which can halt production for an entire day.
The first step is coffee. I try to keep my discomfort to a simmer at least until I have one cup of coffee. If I have an especially nagging thought or task, I jot it down on a post-it note, and flush it down the toilet.
Once I'm drinking coffee, I start to make my lists. While scaling a mountain, you might lose your foot and handholds - afraid of death, you will snap off fingernails and lacerate your hands the bone grasping for anything to slow your fall. Such is the function of my morning lists.
If I'm particularly bitter or concerned about something that's slipping through the cracks, then I try to keep my mouth shut until I've had the first coffee. If I screw up and start to moan, then Kristin will hear it, and she will think that I'm blaming her personally for something, which is only true about half of the time. Being that Kristin is my wife, I need to spare her the foulest of my malarkey to make our adventure seem viable for the long term. Killing two birds with one stone is great until you're the birds, and the stone is your own mouth spraying garbage.
Once I pour my second coffee, I can focus on what really needs to get done now. Usually it's something involving the business that we are "running" from our "home."
An hour later, I am dizzy and acid is chewing through my guts. Then I remember that people need to eat.
½ can of pinto beans; rinsed.
Two eggs; largest size available.
Use a can opener to cut all but half a centimeter of the lid open. Pour out the gloopy water, and rinse the beans until most of the can-water is gone. Pour half the can in a skillet with some butter or oil (optional). Cover the unused portion loosely with tin foil, and place the can in the back of the fridge until it rots.
Once the beans start acting "cooked" you can push them off to the side, and crack the eggs into the other half of the pan. Let the eggs do some cooking, and then break the yolks so you won't even have to try. Mix that around with the beans until there is definitely nothing gloopy anywhere.
Serve in a bowl that you bought for camping, and eat with a fork that you're embarrassed to have bought for camping. Enjoy breakfast while thinking about camping or living in a van, and try not to think about what happens to your rent money after you pay it.
As you may know, I cannot take care of myself. But so far, I still stand up in the morning. I still drink coffee and fry eggs and construct sandwiches. If you've interfaced with my exoskeleton recently, you've probably noticed little or no difference.
Maybe it's always been this way. Maybe the boiling water at the back of my brain has only drifted forward. Maybe the tiny skull-humans have been yanking on different wires of late.
I'm depressed. More accurately, I'm my own diluted version of depressed: not sad enough to use that word; not happy enough to jump in a lake. I can't compare my heart failure to anybody else's. I cannot hold variables constant or compare my malaise against a control group. What I can do is put my foot right through a wall. In the interest of preserving my toes, I haven't tried that yet. So I sit still and smolder...
I quit smoking weed a few days ago. That's fine. I quit taking Adderall a few weeks ago. That's fine. That's probably a set of sound decisions. They stopped working well. They stopped working, and I probably don't need tiny idiots tossing darts around inside my skull-bulge.
Drugs vs. no-drugs doesn't solve my problem. I can't rely on myself to do anything. I can't beg my body to sit up straight. All I can do is cycle through frustration, discontent, and the brief giddy interim.
So, I haven't been writing much. Who wants to read about privileged Americans who choose to sit at home?
Ah, the giddy interim! I get happy, but it doesn't last. I'm relieved when I'm happy. It still happens reasonably often, but I've recognized a trend. Happy or sad, I always feel like I'm standing outside my body and looking at myself. Maybe everyone does. Maybe I'm describing this wrong. Whatever this is, I'm not comfortable. Most of the time, I'd like to punch myself. Given those extra invisible fists, I'd punch myself right in the gut. I'd hit hard enough to be real sorry about it, and maybe even puke on my shoes. That's what I get. That's what happens when you can't shut your face about nothing.
Maybe a less shitty car would cheer me up. Pow! Right in the gut, you idiot!
I sure am pissed about agreeing to this rent-and-bills racket. Boof! You puked on your shoes, you fleshy illusion!
I'm being gently slapped by a thousand invisible hands.
Two men entered the bicycle store. I looked up and greeted them from behind the workbench. Their eyes peeked out from behind their tired bodies. They'd been sleeping in the mangroves, maybe for several months now. Key West gets an influx of escapees every winter, which I know because I was one of them. The homeless make-happen population explodes. Some people have been here seasonally for years, and some stay longer. I'm in the former group, wishing my restless mind would allow me to join the latter. I fix bicycles by day and sleep in a van when I'm done with my drinking and wandering.
Two men entered with assemblages resembling bikes. All three of us lived close to the Earth, but these men were afforded no luxury. I was a vandwelling Key West King and these dirty perps were pure Stock Island. [motto: "One bridge short of the dream."]
The mangroves are a tightly woven matrix and they attract bugs, burger wrappers, and crushed takeout cups. I know you can sleep in there, but I never worked out the specifics on how. There are paths and places, but all of mine are elsewhere.
They stood before me with a need. They were only skeptical because they'd never met me. I'm hard to size up. I have a personal style that reveals something's up, but gives no hint of what or when. They didn't know that I'm a believer. They weren't aware that I wouldn't take their dollar bill. They couldn't see that I was a lonely child on fire. They couldn't sense that I get drunk too.
One bike had a flat tire. I motioned slowly to some ravages on each machine, but was assured quickly that they could fix everything else. They would fix everything, apparently, except for this simple flat. Translated, this is a plea to make it roll again.
There are different levels of need, and one job of the bicycle mechanic is to assess how free you are willing to make a certain number of repairs. Some shops and some mechanics never discount. Most retail stores don't discount based on need, and they see no reason a bicycle store should be different. But the fact is, a bicycle store is much different.
There is a segment of the population that hovers above nothing. They have almost nothing and won't probably get more. Their bike is a key to having anything at all. A bicycle shop plays god with these folks. The mechanic or the manager can decide if these customers will get to work or have a long walk home.
Most of us don't recognize what a dollar bill does in the smallest of numbers: A few crumpled ones is a four pack of talls with change. Five crisp ones is a full day of real food. Four bucks will split you a bottle of wine. More than that is paper, and ought to be wasted before it adds up, gets lost, or spawns responsibility.
To most of us humans, five dollars is a low starting point. We have ones and change to add variety, but it's the crisp twenties that stack nicely, and the smaller bills start to take up space. A bicycle shop's best customers are the ones carrying twenties, and a quick five-dollar repair keeps the lights on and those customers happy. If you eschew the desperate, then five dollars is the perfect minimum charge.
Between these disparate economies must be a meeting of the minds. The shop needs money, but the needy drifters and makers-do need a machine that rolls. A guy with zero dollars can't print bills in his pocket, but the shop can make an exception or a discount and step up to the repair. In my heart, I know the shop has a duty to the public.
A Responsibility to the Public:
As a personal policy, I never refuse a necessary repair. I never will. I will bend and stretch myself to keep the bicycles moving. I've stayed late, loaned tools, patched tubes, and pulled money from my own pocket. With our skillset comes great responsibility. You hold power in your hands. You can add or alleviate an enormous amount of stress. With three minutes of your time, you can prove that humans are inherently good, or you can add to the aggregate suffering on the planet.
The difference between a bicycle shop, and a K-Mart or a coffee shop, is that we as mechanics are peddling a need. A good shop will loan a tire lever and a patch kit, and ask the dollarless customer to do their repairs outside. A better shop will stay after closing to install a system of portage on the delivery bicycle of a drunk man who speaks no English. A good bicycle shop will never make somebody walk home for a lack of money up front.
Some mechanics view pro-bono work as analogous to feeding cats - more cats will come, and their demands will be louder. I don't take this view. I see pro-bono work as an opportunity to decrease suffering. I am not afraid of helping, and the potential increase in needy customers gives me no pause. Paying customers will witness and take note when a mechanic smiles and does the right thing. In spite of what some fear, the needy demands will never out-clamor commerce.
On Stock Island.
All four sets of brakes were splayed wide open; cables frayed like they'd been sawed apart with a claw hammer. The hubs rattled on their axles; loose as if they might contain no bearings at all. Gripless handlebars held functionless levers; bent and pointed in every direction. These were the best ones we'd seen.
I looked at my friend, the manager. There was no need for an expression or nod. These bicycles were bonafide humdingers, and the spectacle enumerated effortlessly; faster and louder than words.
I made a feeble attempt to offer discounted brake repair. Now the men were in a hurry and their schedules started filling up. They don't need brakes, I was told by the first man. "These are deep sea fishing bikes," he explained as a statement of fact. I felt impressed to have witnessed the most absurd possible claim.
"We take them out," offered the second man, moving his hand like a snake.
I needed more information, but I didn't want to frighten these birds. "You ride these on the paths back there?" I asked, pointing vaguely and hoping this conversation was not yet over. "We take them way out" he specified, nodding slowly with gravity.
The transaction ended with a meeting of the minds. I repaired the flat for some uncounted change, and the two men drifted, to fish another day.
I negotiated the purchase of all of the books going out for recycling from a library in my area. I gave the library $200 for twenty boxes of books. Each box weighs about 40-50lbs. This is hundreds of books. Over a thousand? I don't know yet.
The purchase was an adventure, and I'm still combing through the wreckage to see if my hip-shot will pay off. Or to see how much it will pay off... to see if this is something I want to do more often, never again, or as much as possible.
It all began when...
I was in the library's bookstore room, and elderly volunteers wearing gardening gloves were putting books in boxes. Overhearing the conversation was easy in the silent space. They were recycling discards, and mixing them in with rejected donations. They used the word recycling, and my ears perked up. I asked the volunteer-in-charge where these books would be going. I explained simply that "I buy lots of books," and that I'd like to make a better offer.
I asked to be introduced to the decision maker, but she was not there that day. I left my information, and returned the following day when she was scheduled. Before going back to the library, I printed up a flyer, and Kristin made a nice business card, which I stapled to the flyer. We only had yellow paper, but somehow that made it look official and believable that we might actually be experienced in this arena.
I spoke to the nice lady in charge, simply stating again that "I buy lots of books." I asked what the library did with the discards and rejected donations, and she said the county sent a truck, and the books went to the recycling center. I expressed my interest in purchasing those books for a similar price to what the county was probably getting for a load of "mixed paper." That's about 10 cents per pound. I don't know if that's exactly correct, but I know I'm not far off.
She said that the library also puts aside somewhat better books to be shipped to a company who happens to be a huge mega-seller competitor of ours, and whose name I'd rather not type. The volunteers put these subjectively-chosen better-than-trash books into boxes provided by that giant company, and the company pays for the books to be shipped to them. "How much do they pay you for the books?" I asked. Nothing. They just pay for the shipping. (!?!)
I explained that we could pay $10 per box for a standard sized 16x12x12 inch box, and I could provide the boxes, and move all the books. A light went on, and she looked more closely at the flyer and our business card. Less work. More money. She was being offered a square deal.
Pretending I know what I'm doing...
I got a call the following Monday afternoon that the library had about "25 cartons of books." I said I'd drive over to take a look. I arrived with boxes, and said I could pay $10 per box, but I would need to sort them into my own boxes. I was trying hard to give the impression that I knew what I was doing. Kristin and I were left alone in the room to begin the sorting process.
I had barely a clue what I was doing. Most of the books looked like junk, but that was no surprise. There were heaps and heaps of yellowed mass-market paperbacks, old dictionaries, and children's books that looked like they'd gone through a thresher. There were also books published by small university presses, and newer books that seemed to be a strange choice for the recycling pile. The bottom line is, the people in charge of throwing away the books have a much different perception of value, so there were bound to be diamonds. Enough diamonds? Quartz? I could only make an educated guess, and I'd already made that guess, and that's why I was standing there in the basement of a library, re-sorting and re-stacking a mountain of beat-up books.
We filled about ten boxes, and said we would come back the next morning to get the rest - it was getting late, and our contact at the library was scheduled to go home.
We returned the next morning. I'd looked up rental rates and information about car shares with cargo vans. I explored our options, but finally we decided to drive our two shitty little cars over there and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, we'd make a second trip. Probably not a third... probably.
We were let back into the room, and Kristin handed the nice lady $200 cash up front, just to make the whole process more comfortable and legitimate. The nice lady was very happy. A friendly young couple was paying money to the library for something that they had been throwing away for years. It was clear that she thought this was a great deal, and I hoped that it would be a really great deal for us, too.
Books are heavy. I filled my Festiva with boxes. The passenger foot area, and passenger seat were filled first. I scooted up the driver's seat, and put boxes behind it. I filled the cargo area, with the back seat already removed from our adventure during the past winter. The car was riding low. We filled Kristin's car similarly. But... we fit everything. A giant haul. One load.
We drove home, and loaded the boxes into our apartment. It's almost hard to know where to begin. One box at a time. Separate the books with barcodes from the books without. Separate anything too damaged to sell. Make piles. Sort the piles again - look up the value of the books with barcodes, and remove the ones with zero demand. Remove the obsolete books, and anything that nobody would even pay $1 for. Sort again. This time, of the barcoded books of value, we made piles based on condition - Very Good, Good - shows wear, Good - former library book, etc.
It's a week later, and we are still in the midst of this project. I still don't know how many books, or what the projected value will be. I purchased better listing software to help with efficiency. I still think we have a winning idea here, but the dust is far from settled.
Sure, I don't have any secrets. I'll tell you exactly what I'm up to.
1) I'm selling books online. It's analogous to panning for gold. Instead of a gold pan, I have a bluetooth barcode scanner. Instead of a river, I stand anywhere that books can be purchased inexpensively. The more time you spend in the river, the more gold you find. Part of my job is to find better rivers to stand in.
2) When I get interested in something, I dive in. I'm almost totally self-taught with everything I'm good at or knowledgeable about. It doesn't mean I can't learn from others, but unless there is a cosmic alignment of my interest and access to a human teaching about it, I'm on my own. If I'm not interested, you can't pound a fact into my brain with any hammer. I could build a good wheel before I ever worked at a bicycle shop, and I built my tiny house with help from a 1986 textbook and some YouTube videos.
3) I'm proud of my brain. It works in ways which confuse even me - maybe mostly me. My brain churns out various and hilarious ideas and operations, always. My brain only gets sad during the winter. And it is always fucking building things. I definitely won't be getting any genius awards, but I do get a regular bang out of life. I can't pay bills, find anything... ever, and I'm lost in smoke behind a rapidly expanding to-do list of tasks. But I'm also impervious to disaster: If you step on me, I could live underneath your foot, and you wouldn't even know it.
Books. More Information. Faster. Superhero Capabilities.
Most books now have a barcode, and that makes it easy to check them against a database. Scan the barcode; bang-bang. Information. Most books without a barcode will still have an ISBN. This is a 10 or 13 digit number, which can be typed manually to check a book against a database. Hunting for the ISBN on the title page or dust jacket flap - or sometimes the spine, or wherever - takes a little time. For the sake of efficiency, most people who do what I'm doing will skip the books with no barcode. That leaves a ton of valuable books on the shelf.
I'm a thorough person, and also curious. If a book appears to have any potential value, I will take the extra time to type in an ISBN. At a busy book sale with dealer competition (I swear this is a thing), almost nobody will type in an ISBN. There is a mad rush (seriously) to scan barcodes and drain every valuable book out of the place as quickly as possible.
I've ruminated on this for some time. How can I be more efficient when typing in and ISBN? Right now, I can find the ISBN in a few seconds, but I have to look back and forth multiple times between my phone and the ISBN while balancing the book open and trying not to lose my place. In a word, it's clunky.
Hence, this morning at 5am, I couldn't get back to sleep. My solution to the ISBN issue is two-fold. Three-fold, if you count new hardware as a fold. First, I want to train myself to commit longer strings of numbers to short term memory. The method I'm exploring is called the "phonetic-number system" or sometimes "the major system." Basically, letters or sounds are assigned to each number, and with practice, words or phrases can be almost instantly assigned to strings of numbers in order to keep a visual representation in short term memory. This is far easier than remembering a string of digits.
Second fold: get really fast with a numeric keypad. There are plenty of tools available for this on the internet, and with some practice, I imagine I can get speed and accuracy without looking at the keyboard. Typing long numbers quickly, without looking, will pay off immediately while listing books using my full-size keyboard at home.
Typing an ISBN quickly at home is great, but what about when I'm "in the field?" A phone does not have a numeric keypad conducive to fast accountant-like inputs. Much searching revealed no options for a bluetooth numeric keypad that works with a smartphone. Is there one? I surely looked. I will be experimenting with a wireless USB numeric keypad paired with a tiny micro-USB cable plugged into my phone. I'm crossing my fingers that'll work, but after some deep digging I found one weirdo who did this with a full-sized keyboard, so I'm hoping for the best.
The endgame looks like this: I'm out looking for books, and I can do a manual ISBN search nearly as quickly as scanning a barcode. The numeric keypad can be in a coat pocket, or attached to my t-shirt with velcro over my breast pocket area. I can casually type an ISBN as comfortably as placing my hand over my heart to pledge allegiance. This would be as-yet unheard of in my line of work - an incredible advantage, and superhero-like ability. Wish me luck.
I bet it would work. The slow-drone version of island music would really underscore the trippy-shit nature of the simple business. Low, slow Jimmy Buffet and very, very, strong drinks. With a name like "Cargaritaville," success is basically guaranteed.
UPDATE: We are home. The trip was great. Better than great.
I cannot keep up with a blog every day. I'm disorganized, and I edit way too much. I have notes on what happened during the rest of the trip, and I will be converting it to blog-mode soon. That's my intention.
Since returning, we've been trying to get back to work.
I'm back on anti-depressants, 'cause it's cold and snowy in PA. I didn't take anti-depressants on the trip, but for winter it's proving helpful. I spent a couple days verging on despair, then decided to start again on the little yellow pills.
The blog posts for our trip started to become a lie of omissions. In New Orleans, I decided I was ready to have a beer after three years of not drinking. I think I was being really hard on myself about drinking. I know much more about myself and my brain than I did three years ago. Obviously, I can't know if this will ultimately be a bad decision - but I am motivated to be moderate. It's not a contest. It's all good.
Adderall. I'm taking a normal prescribed amount, and it helps. I'd call it essential for getting almost anything done. (Anything I'm not already obsessive and single-minded about... like paying bills and cutting my fingernails. Anything "work" or "maintenance.")
Marijuana. I'm smoking regularly. It's for recreation. It also evaporates my anxiety like a magic wand, which comes in handy.
My previous ideals held that drugs - prescribed or otherwise - would only serve to alter the pure nature of my awesome brain. Now I recognize the issue to be far more complex. With respect to god, Earth, myself, and my loved ones, I am now just trying to find balance: chemically, mentally, physically... in everything.
We were already awake when the day started. After the sunrise, we navigated to a "Dog Beach" in south San Diego. After slow considerable shuffling, I got about 45 minutes of rest on my thin dirty tarp in the sand. I might have attempted more, but some asshole with his butt crack hanging out was looming over my girls when I came out of the can. Sixty fucking seconds. I can't leave my ladies for sixty fucking seconds.
This. Mother. Fucker.
I locked my eyes on him and marched straight ahead with a full tank of malice. He noticed my approach and made space. He was the stupidest person I have ever yet seen. A hopeless case, bothering every single person on the beach. Shouting, and swinging a stick. He took up all of the space. I would cut him in half, but then there would be two: wriggling, yelling, and standing too close to every single thing.
"Let's bag it up," I said, pulling a corner of sil-nylon up off the sand. The dogs on this beach got creepy and loud.
Slightly refreshed; enough to move on. We drove through comically gorgeous hillsides and canyons: La Jolla; Del Mar. I got a line on camping further inland for what seemed now like a very affordable twenty bucks. Con showers, mi amor.
Tired People; Tired Tires.
Almost to paradise. On the home stretch. My eyes began to squint, and I had difficulty navigating. Almost there. I stiffened my back and leaned close to the wheel. Jungle vine grip. Almost there.
I almost cried. I almost cried myself to sleep at the wheel. I knew that tire was going to go, but not now. Please not fuck-king right king-fucking now. I almost had a breakdown within a breakdown as I steered poor Supercar to the ample right shoulder.
Kristin gave me spinach. A yellow pill snapped in half, and I entered the mode of the can-do robot; clicking and clacking through ordered solutions. Within the half hour, I was perfectly good. I saw the positive side: the flat happened in a safe place, and the tires needed to be replaced anyway. The sun was shining, and it was the middle of the day. I have a card with three A's. You know what? It's actually lucky. (Without that Adderall, I'd be typing this from the grave.)
A Ford Festiva has an oddball tire size. I knew this, because I've ordered some before. The likelihood of finding anywhere with something was slim to zero.
My magical space-computer showed me more than one dozen tire shops within a dozen-mile radius. I materialized a pen, and I started making calls; working outward in concentric circles. A list of options emerged in ascending order: stars for promising; x's for not. In the time before the three A's arrived, I'd narrowed down our options to not many. One place didn't have any, but knew what they were - round rubber for a twelve-inch rim, yup. Uncommon. He could get them by Monday; three sleeps hence.
The tow truck eased down our Adventure Machine in front of Big O Tires in Lake Forest California. I moved to the next phase: sleeping options.
Hotels are expensive. Out of the question here. Sleeping in the car did not seem feasible. I checked the price of a car rental by walking across the street to an Enterprise. (I could not imagine getting a flat tire in a more convenient location. Uncanny.)
I asked the rental guy to help me compare rates, and I told him we were on a budget. He acted like his tie was too tight, but he did seem motivated to rent us a car. I had difficulty suppressing a scoff at $58 per day, so the rate was magically lowered to $30 if we take three days, which is what I said I wanted in the first place. They only up-charge to what you can afford; they prod around to assess your levels. If you hold out long enough, they don a chauffeur's cap and take you around. Instead, I accepted the second best price. I only squirmed slightly when I initialed beside the ancillary insurance. Sucker punched! Just give me the keys, you eels.
We found housing! Our mid-sized Mazda SUV would serve as bedroom and parlour. That it also moved was a boon and afterthought.
We backed in next to a Walmart.
We parked in a perfect lot, complete with palm trees and views of foothills. For security, I purchased ninety-nine cents worth of black plastic, labeled "table cloth," and we obscured the windows with that and some tape.
We started the morning in a room by a pool. I poured batter on a hot waffle iron. We pulled that waffle off, and made an exit plan. East or west? We decided to leave matters of the desert unfinished - there's water to the west.
We finished crossing the desert and began to drop through mountains. One portrait after the next, we crossed through:
Hemet (Green, warm, but boring. Possible lack of personality.)
Temecula (maybe something... didn't pull over, in spite of Dirty Projectors song.)
Fallbrook (I could live here, but it looks steep in terrain in price.)
New Ordinance: Humans are Illegal.
We needed a place to sleep.
Official camping hovers around fifty bucks here. We don't need to camp. We need to sleep. Eight hours - boom, boom. No fires, no noise, no trash. If it was me on a bicycle, I'd make myself a burrito behind a tree. The three of us can sleep in the car, but it's not as comfortable and stealth as I'd hoped. It works in a pinch, but it's not the Best Western. Parking the car outside a radius of potential investigation is a challenge: we don't know these areas. We are travelers, drifting across the surface; our cursory exploring is at speed through a windshield.
I am regularly pissed off at how illegal it is to sleep. For something we all do every day, the lack of options baffles me. Sleep has become a commodity. Freedom to travel, in reality, has a price. If you want to be free, paradoxically, you need several forms of camouflage. Tentacles of several unfortunate sorts threaten every pocket and wallet. In my chest I feel illegal, but logic makes my hands flip double fuck yous.
"No overnight parking."
"No beardy weirdos (Unless holding cash)."
I count sleeping among my human rights. We were all born on this Earth - I didn't ask to be - but now that we're all here together, let's make sure our basic needs are met. Food Not Bombs gets arrested. A town in Texas considers legislation requiring leftovers to be made inedible (with toxic spray) before being tossed in a dumpster - lest a homeless human discover unwanted sustenance. How is this possible?
C'est la vie. Adapt and deal, mon frere.
Casinos Are The Worst.
FreeCampsites.net pointed out a casino that allows free overnight parking for RVs. Since that's approximately what we have a very small one of, we went there.
Worst casino ever. Every casino is a dumb rubberneck at best, but this one seemed particularly sad. I'd say don't go there, but you'd never find this place anyway. It's remote, and on the way toward nothing. They serve free coffee and soda in styrofoam cups - a lady comes around with a tray. Zombies sit at slot machines without proper levers - they push buttons, and everybody there is increasingly fucked. It's a big flashing roll of flypaper, and they pry your eyelids open as your accounts are drained. (I lost $9 - a small admission fee for spying around.)
FreeCampsites.net users described a large empty lot above the employee parking area, and I went where it seemed like that was.
Knock, Knock, Knock!
I was in a deep sleep at 1:15am, when a tall waffle-faced block of granite tapped something hard across my glass. This lot was off limits. An identical adjacent parking lot is where we were supposed to be. "Move your shit."
A gunblast to his hard corny face would have filled my dreams with sugarplums. Is that too harsh? I wish an owl swooped down and pissed in his ear. (... killing him instantly.)
Everything out; everything in. We drove to the correct lot. I could have thrown a stone to it, but I would have overshot.
I did not get back to sleep: a car alarm on repeat. I hovered in the space before rapid eye movement several times, but nothing materialized. We spent the sunrise at Denny's, twenty miles down a mountain, with coffee and a hot shared skillet of grease.
Around 3am, I woke to a fully kinetic tent. I paused to take it in, but after a stronger gust, I hopped out to attempt a better staking. Sand! Foiled! For all of its wonderful features, (including "adequate size" and "operational door flap") our tent is a hopeless mope in the face of wind. It's one rope shy of life as a kite.
The wind speed increased. Our tent threatened collapse, but refused to commit. Had humans not laid inside, I doubt Ol' Greeny would have stayed on the ground.
I tried hard to keep sleeping. I crossed my fingers that the tent would just fold down on top of us and decrease the racket. Instead, she remained dizzy and confused, while my irritation finally boiled down to action. I laid for two sleepy hours before springing to my feet. At 5am, we shuffled toward a car-based setup.
Had it not been for that one night in Kansas, I might have been scared. Not close now. Upon exit, I found the winds strong but non-threatening, and this annoyed me more. Allow me to slumber, you clown-assed rig! Nay. Ol' Greeny complains too much.
I was dirty-grease, hunger-bone and chilly-sleeved. I wanted a facility. La Festiva wanted fresh oil. I needed to make some calls and decisions. I could use an internet? Minor naggings proceeded to pressurize my potato soup. At last, we decided to drive downward and postpone our hiking plans. A true boon. (Fuck this chilly wind anyway.)
Enter: Blue Adderall Pill (Amphetamine Salty Something-Or-Other). 10mg is Popeye's spinach. I wish I could grow this mind-spinach organically, but at this point and age, I'll take whatever happens to help. It helps. My tired eyes became focused and alert. Noise and anagrams became calm coherent phrases. A list from the mist: Oil Change / Get Breakfast / Transfer Money / Hotel Deal?
Like any average human on any given day, I could grasp a concise to-do list. I pulled untapped energy from my pocket like a forgotten twenty. I walked, absorbed sunshine, and checked items off a list.
Until I was thirty years old, I had no idea what productivity felt like. I only knew I had a battle with basics: I could barely lift a telephone or get my clothes to the dryer in under thirty days. Confounding, abounding, surrounding... astounding. Errands equal Everest. It's enough to make a guy... say-for-example... move into a van and eschew every possible responsibility. (Which works, please do it.)
My avalanche of inputs became a bulleted task list. A cavalcade fell wayside; paltry and laughable.
I typed a dice-roll in on Priceline, and got a surprise promise of a roof in Palm Springs. Sleep and a shower? Square deal.
Bullshitters on Parade:
Palm Springs is Boca Raton of the west. Geezers and golf clubs. Country clubs and sprinkler systems. A swath of fast traffic bisects a homogeneous eye-roll of car dealerships and sports bars. Palm Springs is a playground for men who wear buttoned shirts as their most casual wear. These folks have solid black credit cards, and it's impossible to guess what will make them smile or frown. Palm Springs is comfortable, but nothing feels farther from home.
"Just passing through," I promised my imagination: I am here as a journalist... I cannot play your "golf." You do not need to call somebody - I will leave directly once I finish this waffle.
Allow me a moment to generalize about gender. (Obviously there are outliers, and on a good day, I'm Donald Duck.)
Now, males, memorize this phrase: "Oh no! Are you okay?"
It took me a mess of years and missed opportunities to employ this phrase at the appropriate moment. I have a manly aspect wherein my reaction to personal injury differs from that which I've observed in the girlfriends of men. My first instinct is to spring to my feet. If there is a broken leg involved, this test will suss it out. If there's a gash, I need to fight the reflex to rub in dirt to seal'er up. Somewhere during the first ten seconds, I am gauging pain against bragging rights. Men generally relish any chance to act casual about damage.
When a girlfriend hits the dirt, I implore you to FORGET all of that. Use the line I just gave you. It doesn't need to sound terribly authentic, because she's not really paying attention. The words will register, and you won't be a cretin.
From what I've seen - and I'm not one, so - girls react to potential injury from a fully different angle. Their first instinct is that they are probably hurt. They don't want to move in case a bone is threatening to poke through some skin somewhere. If there is a dirty abrasion, the dirt will at first appear to be gore. "Only rinsing will prove nothing's missing." It doesn't matter if she fell into a pile of Smurfs: these are critical seconds. If you don't show concern, then the damage gets worse. (God help you if you laugh.)
"Oh no! Are you OKAY?"
I am a truthful man. If you get a lie from me, then you are the police. I've learned that truth is like cream cheese, and it's okay not to press it into every nook and cranny. Further, concern is not a lie: I advocate only for an adjustment of reactions. You do care about her! You do not want her to be down for the count!
Also: if bone really does exit skin, this advice is irrelevant. Call an ambulance, and proceed to both probably pass out.
I woke up fine in the dirt; poked a toe in some garbage. One small part of Slab City: a pile of rusty cans. Looney Toons on hot sad acid. Mutilated rubber and opaque, yellow, sun-busted plastic - brittle, breaking, and spent. It's true what I heard about the trash. Some people decide to dump it everywhere. Folks have been here for a long time, and it's not my place. To judge or understand is not mine here. In a way I'm in love, and in another I am profoundly bored. I didn't allow time for my sediment to rest.
Early in the morning, I settled into the uneasy feeling. The one I know, and I wish I didn't. I'd like to be somewhere else, but I don't think it's physical. I was watched by some fuck on a truck; distantly he stared at me for a full half hour, while, I suppose, I was the closest thing to constitute a threat: the uncommon denominator in a sea of weirdos. His dogs barked; signs claimed vacant land as his. He might have been a talented artist, a priest, or a fine human being - but something about the way his eyes followed me made me want to The Stranger his ass in the desert.
I took an unpleasant sit in a gas station bathroom, and as strong as I am, the smell of chemical litany brought me inches from my knees. Uneasy. All events served to stir my sediment.
We went south to Brawley for a cup of coffee and a reset. We planned to return to The Slabs later. We charged all devices, and enjoyed a couple hours of unfettered access to amenities. The coffee shop was much nicer than it needed to be. Friendly staff and a fancy sandwich returned me back to Earth.
I was ready to return to Slab City for matters of responsibility, but I took a wrong turn. By the time I noticed, I didn't much care. Onward and upward. There are beat down campers in a desert where nobody cares to bother them. Somewhere an elephant flaps his wings.
Above it is Joshua Tree.
I got a pinpoint-pointer on BLM land. Bureau of Land Management land can generally be camped on for at least 14 days. That's as much as I know.
Exactly as the sun dipped behind a mountain, we erected our tent. As the sun dropped, we saw I-10 far below. A tiny rope of headlights marked a line on the land. Stars lit the sky; a brilliant majesty exposed. "I own this," I thought. "And I got this dirt for cheap."
I wondered why some of the able vehicles from Slab City wouldn't rather perch on the side of this mountain. One answer occurred to me. Without a girl and a small dog, I would be lonely here. I am relieved to have this moment to share.
The goal today was no more than to get into California, which was accomplished with little fanfare. This area is rife with huge RVs. Snowbirds from everywhere converge near the border. Rich people have RVs and poor people have packs, or sometimes just a sandy blanket. Anybody who is mobile and dissatisfied with a temperature anywhere else is drawn here.
As always, I feel like I'm filling out a bizarre, rare, and overlooked middle ground. RVs don't hide, and real bums don't bother, but the vandwellers and car-sleepers excel at invisibility. RV people talk about tanks and house batteries, vandwellers share strategies of stealth, and the homeless wanderers generally stick to loose change and Steel Reserve.
I have an affinity for a certain style of bumming around, but I'm not willing to assume the duties of a sunburnt corpse. I enjoy a crafty low-level affordable comfort. I like to walk the thin line of feeling like I'm getting away with something. For the sake of America's GDP, plenty of people would appreciate it if I was willing to pay a little bit more for everything. To anybody who is an active cog in the system of lousy expenses: two middle fingers. If I'm not fancy enough, then you're asking too much. There are certain rules and norms that I take great pleasure in pissing all over. I wish I had more piss and a louder guffaw, because I could spread my opinions much further still.
We stopped to recharge in El Centro, where I could take a closer look at the totem pole and see where we fit on it. We plugged in everything we own at a Starbucks and proceeded to put up our feet and type on tiny screens. We gave our tiny dog some free water, and out of pride and fanciness, she refused to lay down on pavement. She's too good. She will choose a purse, or request a seat at the table.
Across the parking lot was a guy who looked like he dipped his head in the fryer. He held a Steel Reserve at his side, and he was an absolute presence. I had to make an effort not to write a whole book about him.
Littered everywhere are huge RVs, and this is a circumstance where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I want nothing to do with something that can't sneak around. Sure, the kitchen and bathroom might be nice, but most folks driving their kitchen around also seem satisfied to pay a hotel rate to park it.
Who the fuck are we? I like who we are. We're rattling around in a $600 car. We have a camp stove, and we purchase coffee in exchange for services. Our home on the road is sturdier than a tarp without the responsibilities of steering a boat around on pavement. Maybe everyone is just comfortable with what they can afford. I'd like to believe that I have logical values, but give me more money, and I'm afraid of what I might buy. This is why I'm trying to hide money from myself inside of a Roth IRA. That way, if I buy something stupid, at least I'm not a total dummy.
According to our custom, we arrived in Slab City just as it was getting hard to see. Without the benefit of proper sunlight, we took a bad spot near where dogs bark and people drive, and we set up the tent in headlights. Still, the night sky was beautiful, there was no thought of snow, and we slumbered comfortably.
I've developed a pattern. Every night is a scramble. I transform into a flummoxed bummer, and try to figure out exactly where I thought we might be sleeping. As the sun disappears, I feel like a tired idiot in a game of musical chairs. As the light recedes, the efficacy of my efforts wanes as well. In darkness, I might be camping next to a rhinoceros or underneath somebody's front porch. I wouldn't know.
Daylight is my friend, but planning is an abstract concept. What I need to do each morning is figure out where I want to end up at night. I need to learn to use the hours when my brain is sputtering usefully to plan for the later hours when it absolutely threatens to stall out. Also: if you can't find a good place to camp in the desert, then there's something really mentally wrong with you. Realizing this fact and taking it to heart has given me motivation to raise myself up below the lowest possible rung.
I found a place to camp in the Sonoran Desert. I could have set us up almost anywhere, because there are no people there whatsoever. "FreeCampsites.net" provided an excellent suggestion off a small side road. Toward evening, I flummoxed the pedal to the floor as the sun began to hide behind the peak of an upcoming mountain. Nervous but determined, we managed to find the best spot ever right as the sun disappeared in a highly attractive and photogenic way.
Finally, we had occasion to set up the tent. It's a monster. We brought a 4-person Coleman tent; a behemoth for a backpacker, but an absolute mansion for dirty nerds whose other option is to sleep in a Festiva.
As the sun set and a billion stars took over, we listened to reasonable radio signals from Phoenix to the east. We have a yellow hand-crank radio which works better than I can imagine. This thing works on established facts of science and design, but I can't help believing that magic is also responsible. Music comes out with one single crank, and the speaker is a little bit too good for its size. It should sound a little bit worse, I think, or else it'll blow its cover...
Carlsbad Caverns is a huge cave. There is almost certainly a Wikipedia page that can say a lot more. For my part, I can tell you it's probably better than you'd think; certainly worth the trip as long as you're just horsing around anyway.
We dropped the 750 feet inside a mountain to arrive in a cool, comfortable, and enormous cavern. As the elevator drops, you see sheer rock instead of metal or flashes of light from each floor of a high rise. The cavern is dimly lit, with natural features illuminated somewhat artistically. Good job, folks.
Kristin and I took the longer route, which was a 1.4 mile path weaving through the entire part of the cave that is open to the public. The only thing that could make this better would be roller skates and having the place to yourself. As it was, I ended up glad we went. I saw the cavern when I was a much smaller human, but that made it no less awesome this round.
After the cave we were back in the desert. There's not a lot to look at - specifically, anyway - but the drive is a beautiful one in its own right. We weaved through the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Festiva continued to operate just fine. No complaints from this car or driver. Aside from needing to downshift more than I would expect, all is well. I would think that driving at 55-65 would be a little hairy on roads with a speed limit of 75, but that has not been the case. I get passed a lot, but I also have plenty of company in my preferred speed range. Notta prollem.
We ended up at a hotel. Amazingly, a hotel every few nights or so is well within the budget. I cannot believe that I just said that, but it seems to be the case. These are good times, and I'm working passively on a real live suntan. Good times indeed.
Once I find a place and a way to make the payment, I am going to create "The Van Dwellings." If you don't already understand, it's like cave dwellings, but with vans. "Vandwelling" already means to live in a van, usually nomadically, but not in this case: In this case, the vans are stationary. "The Van Dwellings" will be a planned intentional community. Decisions will be made using the consensus method, with each person attending a workshop to be trained on how this method works as a prerequisite to joining the community and having a vote at meetings.
There will be part-time folks and full time folks, but all of the dwellings themselves will be full time. Visitors with vans will be welcomed to park on an absolutely non-permanent basis. A sense of community pride and an agreed upon aesthetic will reign. Wacky-but-tidy, I think, hits the nail on the head. Colorful: in all senses of the word.
There comes a time in a van's life when the cost of repair exceeds a logical limit. Those are the vans we want. Vans which look great, but are no longer roadworthy. Once they reach this point, we will acquire them inexpensively, and drag them to The Dwellings, where they will begin a new chapter. First, they will be assigned an area and supported on a foundation of cement pillars, and bolted down - perfectly level and sturdy, a couple feet or more off the ground. The interiors will be completely gutted. All the seats, including the driver's and passenger's seats will be removed. Wall-to-wall wood flooring or carpet will be installed.
The interior layout and design will be up to each owner. Personally, I'd insulate mine pretty well and install some big casement windows on the side. Big casement windows might not be a good choice for the road, but that's not where the van is anymore. See where this is going? The goal is to create a dwelling that uses the skeleton of a van-based vehicle, but is not constrained by the need to remain road-legal. Mine? I am going to cut a hole about the size of the entire roof, and build a big wooden upstairs area with more windows and storage. The raised roof will overhang the sides, and the additional headroom will make the interior feel much more spacious. You will clearly see that it started out as a van, but now it is really something else altogether - windows popped out the side, a big roof, no seats clogging up the living area. A bigger structure is possible by splicing together two vehicles, or using more wood framing. But it's always van-based at the core.
"The Van Dwellings" will have an onsite drive-in movie theater with permanent car seating. Old cars will be raised on dirt mounds and cement pillars facing the screen. The interiors will be rehabbed, and the seating improved. The speakers will be hooked up directly to play the audio track of the movie - there will be direct wiring for speakers and lights in each vehicle. And an ashtray full of doobies, to be sure.
Making a Van Dwelling is similar in spirit to building a Pinewood Derby car. Each scout is given the same block of wood, but the final cars are as different as each builder's skills and imagination allow. The Van Dwellings work on the same principle. The only vehicles allowed will be based on a van chassis. The classic vans we think of first definitely fit the bill. You will also be allowed to use a box truck with a van body, like the Ford E-350 U-Hauls, etc. Many decommissioned shuttle buses are built on a van chassis, and some of them can be plenty spacious with lots of windows. Finally, a step van can be used - like an old bread truck or ice cream truck. RVs based on a van chassis may also apply, but no 40 foot busses, or big trailers, or large body trucks - there will be a single common denominator, and that is that each dwelling will be based on what was formerly a van. No stretching the rules on this point. Everybody gets an equal ball of clay to work with. Friendly competition and camaraderie, I imagine, will lead to increasingly innovative and interesting designs.
The Van Dwellings will have a common area in a large, centrally-located vehicle conversion. The common house will be constructed of several box trucks spliced together side-to-side, with all the pop-outs and raised roof areas we can muster. It'll have couches and a larger kitchen area capable of cooking meals for a larger number of people. Next to the common house will be the only building that might not be a van - a shared bathroom and shower area which will resemble a nicer and cleaner version of what you would expect to find at a KOA or campground. Everyone is welcome to install a personal off-grid bathroom and shower setup in their own private van dwelling, but there will also be this shared-use one, where proper showers and flushing toilets exist. Personally, I'd have a Dry Flush in my van, but I'd use the shared bathroom most of the time. Clean, well lit, private showers.
How will you zone this? Let me handle that. It'll be zoned similar to a trailer park, or a campground with cabins. If we are right with the Earth, and friendly with the public, then the chips will fall in our favor.
Do you want to move to The Van Dwellings? Let me know all about it, and I'll save you a spot.
Del Rio Texas is located right up against Mexico. If you head left, you're in Mexico. So if you don't want to do that, you have to go back north. Over coffee and fifteen types of breakfast meat, I laid my enormous new Road Atlas in front of me, and wondered what the fuck I was doing in Del Rio.
Car-ikey. That's how I say "crikey," which is Australian for "Pete's sake." I make sure to say the "car," because that's what I am driving when our destination is a miss.
Caves, bro! There's caves! For no great reason, we decided to go straight north toward Carlsbad Caverns. I wanted to suspend our relationship with Texas, and it seemed like crossing a fake line in a desert might help turn a page - where the same paragraph would be continued, and the story would go on. Double spaced or single, the story is the same, and the only thing at the border is a colorful sign. I'm not saying you don't point to the sign and read it aloud with an air of excitement - you do - I'm just making more fun of humans and myself, and trying to point out how absolutely silly almost every single thing we do is. The only danger is in taking anything seriously, or acting upon the wishes or momentum set forth by any unfortunately serious humans who came before us. Sometimes it's hard to keep all of this straight. That's why I keep taking these notes.
Just before reaching Sanderson Texas, Kristin relayed the sad news from her phone that all the flappy bats had already headed to Mexico for the winter. Sounds nice. They don't need passports. (This will change by 2025, when we finally install nets on top of a big stupid wall.)
We continued toward Carlsbad anyway, because at least there's still a big cave to tromp around in.
Sanderson Texas is great. The charm whacks you over the head out of nowhere. We went to about three places there, and everybody kept getting nicer as we went. Now I need to send more Christmas cards. The guy at the gift shop was so friendly that I felt compelled to buy a giant rainbow-colored sock monkey. He countered by throwing in a free poster, which I was friendly enough to accept with a smile, knowing fully that I'd have to toss it as soon as we got out of town.
Sanderson Texas. They have friendly people... and snakes. It is among the prettiest places I've seen, which might be helped along because I'm sorta color blind. But even for people who can see the whole normal human spectrum of colors, this place has gotta look great. Snake hunters love it, too, and they're definitely completely normal and trustable. If you can't trust my judgement, at least you can trust a snakeman's.
The desert kept being sunny. I find it astounding that the temperature is creeping into the 60's at best, but inside the car feels like I'm getting roasted. A spare square of dark window tint material has been mitigating this circumstance nicely. I recommend it.
Evening arrived as we got closer to Carlsbad. I know this because the sun started losing its heat, and I started mumbling about the fucked up nature of simple human truths. That I can't camp wherever I want and everything is expensive becomes increasingly frustrating toward nighttime. If I didn't eventually pass out, I'd end up kicking something pretty hard.
Everything works out. I cussed around about camping and idiots until Kristin found a drive-in movie and I found an absolutely fantastic place to park underneath trillions of stars. Why do I forget that I am fully invincible? Why is it a daily ritual to decry the exact way everything just plain is? I'll have to examine this while I practice: Shutting. The. Fuck. Up.
To be serious, though, we slept in one hell of a beautiful spot. It was a few miles off the highway in the "Cottonwood Day Use Area." Signs claimed "no camping," but that must have been a mistake. There was definitely camping there - no problem - and I think somebody should fix the sign.
We spent the morning finishing up our business in Austin. The sun returned with no undue obstructions, and I felt prematurely antsy to continue any vehicular trajectory. So far we've had the benefit of solid destinations. There has been a short list of places to definitely be. The list contains more, but there is a great distance to cover before we get to them. We have a wide desert to traverse.
We said our goodbyes, probably a day too soon, and headed west. Breakfast tacos are everywhere, and moods and excitement soared as we set out to... something.
With no particular goals or plans, we went west and south in the general direction of California, but also Mexico, and a whole long stretch of empty roads, dirt, and Texas. Toward evening I needed gas, which is about the most exciting thing to happen since meeting the cute little bunnies this morning back in Austin. (There was a farm with bunnies next door.)
We ended up needing somewhere to sleep, and having no idea where to do that. This was to become a recurring theme. But humans don't stay awake forever - naturally you just get more tired and start to care less and less where you sleep or who might notice.
Late into the night, I took a right turn where a sign claimed a boat ramp was. Good enough. I cruised down the road toward less and less of anything, and we ended up where there was almost nothing. We ended in an empty parking lot next to a nearly empty lake. Not a hot attraction this time of year, I guess. Perfect for us.
Everything out; everything in. Supercar entered sleepmode for another night of reasonably decent slumber. We woke up as soon as the sun brought the temperature back above forty degrees. We looked around ourselves on a map, and found an IHOP and a gas station in the sprawling question mark of Del Rio, Texas.
The weather must be the number one variable deciding whether I am happy or sad. It must be. With sun, anything seems possible. With gray overhead, despair creeps through the caulking.
The sky remained gray, and a cold misty day permeated. I stepped on Kristin's feelings, and it made more difficulty than anything is ever worth. Arguments at these times are pointless. There is nothing to be resolved, because everything is almost exactly perfect. Further, discontent is a predictable ingredient in everybody's life, and I think it should be ignored and abhorred if the fundamentals are tidy and in place. You can assume my foot is in my mouth and I'm kicking my own teeth. Let me smolder of my own accord, and by the time I get back from the library, the fire will be out.
By the time I returned from the library, the sun had set, and the misty day was in the past. Toward evening we all convened at George's. I suspect George is calm and well mannered at all times. I can't picture him raising a voice or a hand. He sits on a low pedestal; a humble archetype. Future humans should take notes, and everything will be okay.
I think highly of him.
In every square foot of living space, I see something that demands an answer. For example, I have twenty six questions about the sliding doors. I understand the inline skate wheels, but why isn't there a track on the floor? You don't need one? How did you know that? And the angle iron up top is enough to keep it all in place? How the F did you know that?
The house is better than anything I've seen on the TinyHouseBlog. If HGTV finds out, they're going to offer him a show.
Above everything, and most important, I'm relieved to have George's number. He's a friend, resource, and inspiration. I love his boyfriend, who reminds me a little bit of myself at 26, and a lot of Kristin circa now. We have strangely symmetrical relationships, in fact. Bizarrely. I peppered George with too few questions and talked on about bicycles while Kristin chatted up Matt about acrylic nails and/or app games or some such nonsense.
I had a lovely evening, and another fine night in the four-cylinder Automate Stepvan which I researched immediately upon entering the library. (It's the ultimate vehicle. How did he do that?)
We woke up at a HoJo's a couple hundred miles closer to Texas. Gray skies, and a whole lotta fuggit. I tried to repair a damaged morning by pulling over to gawk at some five-pound gummy bears. We got some late-morning candy and tried to wait calmly for conditions to improve.
Westward. Texas next. We entered the battered dusty roads and asserted our right to drive amongst trucks. A big road gave way to a smaller one, and toward evening we had that road mostly to ourselves. The situation was improved, and soon it got many times better.
I've been typing back and forth to George ever since I moved to Key West in a box truck. I don't know how he found out I exist, but my self-published log of activities garnered his notice. He's been kind enough to wave his hand and confirm that similar minds exist. Over the last years he has checked in on occasion. I'm always happy to get word - our lives are following a similar path, and I am lucky to share thoughts with someone who has a knack for validating my existence and putting my heart in a calmer state of ease. George is one of the good people who confirmed to me that people are great. Even as I gain cynicism with age, I am relieved to share the Earth with him. He is one of my people. I'm glad I looked, and most gladdest we finally had occasion to meet.
Big hugs! Okay, a somewhat tentative greeting squeeze. The first order is to reconcile the human with the paragraphs you've shared. Pretty quickly, I saw that he was who he said he was, and I was happy to get the opportunity to solidify our knowledge of one another.
George built a tiny house. He built a sauna. He built other structures, and a satellite dish is used as a roof on more than half of them. I forgot to mention that he is a genius.
We were invited to sauna with some Austin weirdos. I've never been in a room so hot. A dim strip of LEDs greet you as you enter through a round door into a cylinder that will cook you. Pallet wood feeds a stove with a pipe glowing red hot. When you can't take any more, you fall back out the door and rinse off under the outdoor shower. You start again. And repeat.
Me and Kristin sauna'd with folks and I felt cleaner than if I'd been gone over with a pressure washer. Egad, I need a sauna like that.
Me and my girls slept in George's truck. I could talk about this truck forever, but instead I'll just say it had a bed. And also everything else you might ever need. He's lived in it for more than ten years... (!?!) Well, now he owns a house in Austin that he rents out, and has a tiny house in the backyard that he built, and lives in, and the truck has a docking port to connect to the house as an extension, and you can move seamlessly between the two, and holy cow is it awesome.
What does this guy find interesting about me? Everything I aspire to, he's already accomplished with aplomb. Maybe I'm like the bumbly younger brother and he's just hoping for the best. I slept great in the truck I've known about for years. I got a comfortable sleep in a step van, connected to a tiny house, next door to a sauna, sharing a yard with other eclectic and artistic structures built by a guy who lives simply and only works at will.
We woke up in our pricey rented tent, and began the long process of getting everything back into a car. Loading snakes back in the can. There is a lot to see in this city, and it wasn't terribly clear where to start. I'm not a Professor of Tourist Destinations, so we decided to get on some bikes and just see what happens.
Cruising around with a dog is always nearly an issue, but a real problem has not yet developed. We didn't plan ahead for any way to get Daisy to join us on bicycles, but I managed to work it out with no great difficulty. I have a pannier along. I stuffed a sleeping bag and jacket in the bottom, and Daisy was able to peer out the top. We rigged up a system of straps and a binder clip, and we were on our way to town with a tiny dog riding sidecar.
People write whole books about what to do in New Orleans. I didn't write any of those books, and I didn't read one either. It's more my style to just show up and loaf around a bit. Walk in some circles and peer around corners. Maybe turn over a stone in the process.
Finally, the temperature was rising. My winter-addled attitude began to improve in earnest. Cruising at nine miles an hour with my girls - a waft of air billowed memories of Key West into my nozzle, and I felt genuinely happier and more at ease than I can remember. Here I am. I'm on vacation and I'm getting away with something. I'm late to work, or I quit my job. I'm skipping school, and I snuck into the movie theater. I don't need to be anywhere at any time. My life philosophy is to aim for an existence of wasting time with impunity. For this moment I've attained it. I'm wearing shorts. Everything is a-ok.
We got beignets at the famous place that sells them. We walked around the ancient crumbly cemetery, and watched some great busking feat. three trombones, a banjo, a sousaphone (thank god) and at least a guitar or two. A repertoire of predictable classics, served saucy and loose. Tons of people want your money. Every other person in New Orleans wants to get your dollar bill. Some people want to buy booze, and others promise they won't. Some claim hunger, and others seek compensation for performance. It's all great. It's all good enough.
I could move here easy - I could see myself quitting the north and posting up here with cheap rent and loud music. To call the atmosphere relaxed doesn't quite cover it.
I could stay forever, or continue down the road. We made a half-hearted attempt to find a couch to surf on, but ultimately decided to revisit this place another time. Cooler temperatures were forecast, and the road to California is a long one. We have business to attend to. Matters of the highway...
I could have been warmer last night, but I've slept a lot worse. With practice, I could adapt. In the present tense, sleeping in the car felt like an experiment, and we got a passing grade. We packed up again as the sun began to rise.
Sneaking a dog into the Waffle House. She must have been thinking this one up in advance, because "it was my phone" was quick to Kristin's lips when a sharp woof came out of her big funny purse. Luckily, there were no further woofs or questions.
We got an Air BnB that you'd have to see to believe. Someone in the Bywater section - two miles from the French Quarter - is renting out a backyard tent for $30 per night. Thirty bucks for a tent seemed to be pushing it, but throw in a shower and a yard to keep a dog, and it was in the right neighborhood in both price and location. An orange extension cord wound through the yard and into the tent. Okay, fine, it's a deal. Oh, wait... a $9 cleaning fee? Fuck it. Just charge me and let's get this over with.
Me and Kristin had a great time. We wandered around the French Quarter, loafed around on Bourbon Street, and ended up sharing one hell of a dressed up hot dog. Let me tell you, there was a whole slice of pickle laid down under the hot dog, and yes I'd eat one again.
We were in this town just long enough. We wanted to strike out before comfort made us permanent citizens.
Our experiment to work while traveling worked just well enough.
1) I forgot the Macbook charger.
2) A fucked up battery in the suitcase scale threw a second wrench into the works.
I'm glad our pre-trip efforts continue to earn an eye-opening yield, but I'm more gladder that our way will be paid whether we decide to work more or not at all. We're golden.
I discovered that my hiking pack plan is not as good as I thought. A shame, because one bag each sounded so smart. In practice, however, our packs are the size of the front seats. They are much less jam-to-the-side-able than in my imagination. Tape measures and trial runs are better tools of discovery, but I've been blessed with a brain that runs out in first gear. HIKING PAAACKS! WE'LL BE INVINCIBLE GENIUSES!!!
We have a dozen of those cheap re-useable shopping bags along with us. To carry books. I shifted my luggage to a few of those, and the load is so much more manageable I had no choice but to feel sheepish. Smaller bags open up much better stuffing opportunities when the car is in sleepmode. You can't jam a pack the size of bigfoot's torso down by the pedals - but two soft bags of clothes will fit right in. Better system. Much better.
After what felt like hours, we managed to extract ourselves 'n' stuff from Evan's family's beautiful home, and squeeze back into Supercar to crawl back down the road. We stopped at a library to print shipping labels, and a UPS drop point to unload two medium boxes of books. Then south.
Mountains became gentle, and soon Alabama was upon us.
The most exciting thing to happen on the road was an Iron Skillet. If you're not in the know, "Iron" is pronounced "Arn," much like the "Harne" in "Chrisharne." It's a truck stop restaurant. You get a coffee, and it comes with a little refill carafe. They didn't read your mind - they do that for everyone. Then what you do is walk up to the food pile. They have little iron plates with skillet handles, and you make a vertical mess of chicken, pork, potatoes and gravy. You add the cornbread as a fluffy sort of ballast for the trip back to your seat.
If I didn't have a blog, I'd keep my mouth well shut about the Iron Skillet. It feels like a shameful pleasure, but I love the place. I love that there's a reserved area for truck drivers. Us car people are quarantined to the perimeter, and there is a special paddock for the big guys. They sit twenty feet closer to the pile and jaw about matters of the highway. For my part, I gaze out at a Shell station or similar. The sun sets, and it's not so beautiful as it is just plain different. My heart fills with reverence and satisfaction. For dessert there's pudding, and also mousse which is actually just another pudding. I could go on...
The Tuskegee National Forest is where we were headed. The government owns some trees almost exactly halfway between where we woke up and where we'd like to be. I found a chart of GPS coordinates for free camping sites there.
Finding a camping spot at night sucks. The main reason for this is that humans can't see in the fucking dark. A personal sub-reason is that I get more irritable after dark whenever I'm pressed to actually let my dull senses communicate with my brain. The electrical synapses slow down. Sensory inputs weave curiously about like a scuba diver in potato soup. Questions get capitalized. WHERE? and WHAT?? and especially the ever-present WHY???
The temperature dropped to 25 degrees. We pulled onto some dirt doubletrack. Soon, I had to weave around soft spots to keep from bottoming out. I wanted to avoid the potentially murderous hillbillies in pickups, of which there were several, and eventually I just found some grass to drive onto. Everything out; everything in. We switched Supercar to sleepmode, and at the end of musical chairs, the only guy left out was Kristin's hiking pack. I tossed it on the roof while we slept.