Fixing the bed — January 16, 2016

Fixing the bed

On the happy day when I got my van, July 30, 2015, it already had a bed in it. It had this built-in base of heavy solid wood that had heavy drawers.  One drawer opened from the front, inside the van, and the other from the back when the doors are open.  The bed ran the width of the van, and was just barely too short, but I could sleep quite comfortably with my head at one side of the van and my feet at the other, if I slept diagonally.  This left the entire front part of my van for…whatever.  I added a mattress topper and slept so comfortably for months!  Until the rain started…

The rain was getting into my van from the back end – right where the bed was. You can read a couple posts I made about that.  At first, it was just in the cabinets, and I was very vexed at having to take the things from the cabinets and open them up until they dried, at which point it would rain again.  Then, in December it happened… Drip.. .drip…drip… The rain was dripping from one of the back cabinets and hitting the bed.

A wet mattress is not acceptable!  I went to the dump and dismantled the base.  I would have stored the base for later, if I’d had a storage space that could hold it (mine is way too small, and full of my boxes). I also got rid of the custom mattress that fit the base, but kept my mattress topper.  I then got a used cot.  It was a kingdom 3 REI cot.  I assembled the cot at the front of the van, lengthwise, where it always stays dry.  I slept in that cot for about 3 weeks, when I realized that my back was getting more sore.  I have back issues that can incapacitate me if I don’t watch it.  The cot has a slight rise at the feet and at the head.  Plus, it wasn’t nearly as comfortable or cozy as the other bed had been.  Combine that with the slight dampness of everything – including my bedding – due to the rain and general humidity in the air combined with the cold.

Yesterday I stuck the cot in my storage and bought a piece of plywood slightly smaller than a twin bed.  I also got some cheap storage bins that are about 18 inches high, with lids.  And I got a twin air mattress.  I put duct tape around the edges of the plywood (to avoid splinters) and put it on top of the storage bins, items I don’t need in the back and items I do need toward the accessible edge.  I put a blanket over the plywood, and put the air mattress on that, and my mattress topper on top of that.  Then I tested it. Ah, it was comfortable!  I could sprawl out a little, cuddle up with my big pillow, and move around with abandon…as long as I was parked on a level surface (a problem that didn’t come up until last night when I parked on a street).

Parked on the street, there was enough of a slope that I could easily have rolled off the bed, or the whole thing could have shifted down during the night.  Realizing I wouldn’t fall asleep until the problem was fixed, I got up and put three blocks of wood under the plywood, along the edge that was on the downward slope.  That solved the problem for last night, but I need to do something else, otherwise the plywood underneath will end up breaking due to having no support along the center.

So, here is my plan.  I’m going to leave the blocks of wood along that edge under the plywood, but put some pillows along the center, under the plywood, to give that centerline some support.  It all sounds like a very temporary makeshift solution.  I know (have read about) a lot of people who build solid bases into their vans for the bed, but I don’t have the skill, the tools, or the workshop to do that.  My temporary solution is actually quite comfortable (except for the pervasive dampness – which I can do nothing about, but wait for warmer weather).  However, I do need some adjustable permanent solution.  I so miss my cozy comfortable bed of the early days!


Gratitude! — January 6, 2016


Even though it’s pouring rain, and my cabinets are wet, I’m still reminded that there are so many things to be grateful for.  I remember once, about a year ago, there was some event on campus, and I was at this event in the evening.  It was pouring rain, and it was dark and cold.  There is an underground parking lot where I parked my car on that day, and I walked back to the lot in the cold rain after the event to get my car.

Berkeley has a pretty big homeless population, and often they sleep in the doorways of businesses, and sometimes just right out on the sidewalk, where there are open underground vents through which warm air flows up into the streets.  But on this night it was cold and wet everywhere.  On this night as I walked down the stairs from the wet and windy atmosphere into the parking garage to retrieve my car, I could feel the immediate change from cold and wet to warm and dry.  It’s so comfortable down there… and empty. But at the stairs is a security guard who greeted me as I descended.  Now, there is no real reason to have a security guard in this parking garage, because there is nothing down there, so I can only assume that the security guard is there to prevent the homeless population from escaping the wet cold misery to be in the warm dry comfort of that garage!

And it occurred to me then, and even more so now that the wet and cold is more of a present reality for me than it was, that the whole parking garage and security guard scene is a really pathetic statement about social justice – that there is a huge warm dry space underground and empty, and there are freezing cold people who are wet and sleeping on the sidewalk right outside of it…how does that even make sense?  How in Hell do we justify that?  How can that security guard do her job of keeping those people out of that empty parking garage?  It’s the middle of the night!  NO ONE IS PARKING THERE!  For the love of GOD let people escape the wet and cold for a few hours at least…

Even though my cabinets are wet, I am grateful that my clothing and my bed is dry.  Though the air is cold, when I sleep I am warm, and I am grateful for that.  Although I have expensive mechanical problems with the Hilton, I do have, or can get the money to fix it, and I’m grateful for that.  I have enough food to eat, and I am grateful for that.  I have a job that provides insurance and income for me and I am grateful.

There are so many things I could complain about, but at the end of the day, I have a running vehicle, I am warm and dry and safe when I sleep, I have medical care, a job, and enough to eat!  It’s not that I didn’t know that I was privileged before, but now that I live in the Hilton, I feel both the privilege and the gratitude more acutely than I ever have before.


Still Fixin’ that hole! — January 5, 2016

Still Fixin’ that hole!

And damnit!  I’m not happy about it!  And it’s cold!

I went and had the seam around the top of the van sealed.  First they sealed it with a water based sealer that needed to completely dry before being wet again, and it happened to rain the evening that they sealed it.  Fortunately, they redid it without cost with some other sealer, not water based.  But the water is still getting in!  I’m not sure what to do… or even if it’s a big enough deal to worry about it at the moment.  The cabinets that are built into the top of the van are getting wet, but for the time being, I’m not storing anything there that will be affected by this.

When it dries again, I’m going to up there myself with a sealer and do it.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this in the first place.  I know there is a drought in California, and I know we need the rain really badly…. but is it wrong for me to wish it would go away?

In addition to the problem with the rain, I have some expensive mechanical problems that need to be taken care of.  However, as Blaize mentioned, at least with not paying rent, I have the money to take care of van repair expenses.  And I do… and these are one time expenses unlike rent, so I’ve decided to be grateful for that much.  It’s all about outlook, right?

And it’s cold!

Or it was – for like two weeks it got down to freezing.  I was OK during the time I was sleeping, but it’s hard to be excited about van living when I’m freezing my ass off!  The cold has gone away though – and although I’m not excited enough to pee my pants like I was when I first started this, I am still quite pleased with my decision.

It Must Have Rained Last Night — December 11, 2015

It Must Have Rained Last Night

There was an amazing storm last night!  Thunder with lightening and rain filled the sky.  I noticed that most of the rain here happens during the night; it’s rare that it rains throughout the day.  When I was living in my apartment, the closest I came to storms like that, was waking up and seeing the ground all wet and thinking, “Huh!  It must have rained last night.  Maybe I should bring my umbrella.”  Oh yes, I do remember in wetter days, wading through puddles and icy sheets of rain, but those times were so rare that I remember specific incidents, not a general weather pattern.

The storm last night was so intense that I started to get scared!  It’s one of the blessings I get, living in the Hilton – I’m a lot closer to nature and weather than I’ve ever been.  Being scared sometimes, being filled with awe and dread about the natural world, is not a bad thing!  Child of the modern culture that I am, I immediately began to google about the safety of being in a lightening storm in your car, and what the seconds between the lightening and the thunder actually means in terms of distance from the lightening strike.  No, the rubber wheels don’t really protect you from lightening!  And being on your cell phone adds a little more risk.

What could I do but put my phone down at that point, and experience the storm?  I should have been sleeping, but wasn’t upset about being awake because I was so in awe of the experience I was having.  Rain was pelting the roof with vengeance, and thunder roaring, lightening flashing filling my van with light, and I was lying there, so warm and cozy in my nice blankets, participating in my own way.  I never expected that being entranced by a storm would be one of the benefits of moving into my van.  I expected to have to endure storms, not participate in them. Though I needed the sleep, I was filled with awe and gratitude, and a little fear, and the experience was incredible!  When it passed, I drifted off to sleep again.


Thieves in the Night — November 24, 2015

Thieves in the Night

I don’t tell many people that I live in a van.  Most wouldn’t understand that I WANT to live in the van, and even those that I do tell, don’t fully comprehend my reasoning.  But everyone I tell has the same initial reaction – What happens if someone breaks in?

Last night I dreamed that a bunch of people were shaking my van, and were about to break the windows.  Since I’m no longer afraid of an encounter with the police, someone breaking in has moved up to the “number one concern” position.  Even so, I’m not really worried that someone will break in, but at the same time, I do acknowledge that encounters with thieves is an elevated possibility as long as I live in my van.  At least one night in the past four months, someone has checked my doors to see if the van was unlocked.

However, someone could break into an apartment or house too!  In fact, I have one friend that was threatened at knife point when someone broke into her apartment, and another that was cut with a box cutter when someone broke into his.  Having an apartment doesn’t remove the possibility of being robbed, even if car break-ins happen far more frequently than apartment break-ins.  And there are important and relevant differences.

I think that an apartment break-in is far more likely to end in violence and bodily harm than a car break-in.  When thieves rob an apartment, they do so knowing that a violent encounter with the resident is a possibility, and they use weapons more often than not.  When someone breaks into a car, the expectation is that no one is around, and the possibility and anticipation of a violent encounter is diminished.

People break into cars for two reasons – to steal something from the car, or to steal the car itself.  When people break into cars, they are looking for easy targets.  They’re looking for cars with the doors unlocked, or parked in unlighted, out of the way spaces, and they are looking for quick getaways with as little notice as possible.  What they are definitely NOT wanting, is an encounter with another person.

In all my years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, my car has only been broken into by thieves 3 times.  Two of the times I had left the door unlocked, and someone went through my items, stole my jacket, and some change.  The other time, the car was locked, but I had left my purse in the passenger seat (for only like 10 minutes while I ran into my friend’s house) and someone smashed the window and stole it.  For the most part, car break-ins are opportunistic.  Someone was walking by my car, saw my purse, and decided to break the window to get it.

I get that someone could break into my van while I’m inside, or while I’m sleeping, but I don’t think it’s a high probability, and I think there are things I can do to lower the probability even further.  First, use a theft deterrent like “The Club”.  Anyone who breaks into a car to steal it will not choose a car with an obvious deterrent.  As mentioned, they want the easiest situation possible.  Second, I don’t leave anything that would tempt anyone to steal in a visible location in my van, nor do I ever leave the doors unlocked.  I don’t leave things in the seats in front even if they are not valuable.  Additionally, I always park on well lit streets in neighborhoods where a breaking window would cause notice.

Finally, I am prepared if someone were to break in, in spite of my limiting the temptation.  I hang my keys right above my head, so that they are available, and I can press the panic button, and my car horn will start honking.  That, all by itself, should cause them to run away.  For all the effort that car and van dwellers put into stealth, when someone tries to break in, that is the time to make very clear that there is someone in the car.  Remember, people who break into cars aren’t expecting an encounter with the owner.  This will trigger their fight or flight response, and they will most likely run away.

Having said all that, I don’t want to downplay that there is always a possibility of danger, and of violence.  Having mace or a taser handy certainly doesn’t hurt.  But honestly, life itself is a risk.  People die in airplanes, but if you never take an airplane, you never travel overseas!  For me, the benefits and the adventure of living in my van far outweigh the risks.


In Memory — November 20, 2015

In Memory

This past month has been a terrible one for me.  Both of my parents passed away within 3 weeks of each other.  Actually it’s been a terrible 6 months, with both of my pets dying over the summer, and now my parents in the fall.  Yes, it’s sad, and I’ve done my share of crying and will continue to cry off and on I think.

However, I don’t think that it has to be all bad.  I think there are gifts and opportunities that come from the death of loved ones – unexpected gifts.  I feel like I crossed some sort of boundary – like up until this point, I was just practicing being an adult, but now I have to be one for real.  Living in the van drives that point home even harder.  With my parents living, I always had a safety net.  I never really used it, but if my grand plans didn’t work out somehow, I could always go home.  Now I can’t do that, and my plans must work.

One of the best gifts from my parents is their love (especially my father’s) of traveling and camping.  The van that I have was the van that they traveled in and stayed in while driving all over the united states.  Their passing away has given me an even stronger longing to visit the sites they visited.  One of the last things my father said to me was that he wanted us to take a trip to Death Valley.  We went to Death Valley when I was a kid, and he has been since.  But now, I know that Death Valley will be my first trip in my van.  I am planning it this spring in memory of my father’s wish to go there.

RIP Mom and Dad!

Why Van? — June 25, 2015

Why Van?

My family thinks I’m both crazy and brave.  But mostly crazy!  Why am I moving into a Van?  Because….. so many reasons!  Geez!  Where to start!

The biggest reason is that I have a bohemian spirit, and I’ve lost that somewhere in my life!  It’s the part of me that was free and carefree!  Somehow that was taken over by work and responsibility and … and… student loans! And propriety!  And stuff!  So much stuff!  Useless stuff that sits around!   I’m so … so tired of my life!  In fact, it’s really started to cause depression for me!  I get up, go to work, come home, and clean house and do laundry on the weekends!  With an apartment, I find it so easy to isolate myself!  What happened to community? I could go out and meet people, but I’m so tired after work. This isn’t how I envisioned my life!

Financial reasons – I can afford to live in an apartment.  That is… if all I want to do is live in an apartment, and spend all my income on living in an apartment, I can afford to do that!  Yes.  But is that living?  I pay my rent, my car payment, car insurance, power, and smart phone.  After those things, I have enough money to buy food, and by the end of the month I’m searching my purse for quarters to do my laundry!  Every…. Single…. Month!  That’s not living!  That’s existing so I can keep going to work, so I can keep existing!  I don’t pay for internet, I don’t do cocaine or smoke, or hire strippers, or even go to bars!  I don’t even go to the movies, or have TV or cable!  I get netflix, and watch that on my smart phone.  That’s entertainment for me.  And at the end of the month… I’m broke!  My income level is technically middle class.  However, a studio apartment in an OK neighborhood in Berkeley is $1600.  Yes, I have options…. I can live an hour away and commute in, among heavy traffic.  I can rent a single room (for about $1000) and share my bathroom and my kitchen.  Or… I can live in my van and save my money and do things that ARE living!  Guess what option I am taking!?

What makes me happy? The best times of my life were camping and traveling.  I have such fond memories from childhood about camping around the country in an RV with my family!  My dad loved road trips!  So how can I afford to do the things that make me happy?  That make life worth living?  By not paying rent!  Enter the van!

I also have “social justice” reasons for doing this.  The disparity between the rich and the struggling in our society has become so vast!  There is part of my mind that cries out against social injustice.  I don’t like giving my hard earned money to someone because that person is owner of some goods, and I need those goods for survival.  Shelter and food should not be about ownership.  I’m not sure that our current capitalist system is all that different from feudalism!  Are we not tied to our location out of the need to survive from day to day?  Do we not work to serve those who don’t have a need to work?  Certainly it can’t be described so simplistically but… to say that this does capture the experience of many of us is not so far fetched.  I am choosing not to participate.  I’ve always been a social activist, and now… I want to live that life!