Fixin’ a Hole Where the Rain Gets In — December 14, 2015

Fixin’ a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

During the rain the past weekend here, I was dry and comfortable in my bed, but I kept hearing a drip that sounded like it was inside.  I got up and checked around my bed, but it was completely dry.  The windows weren’t leaking, so I went back to sleep.

The rain getting in really starts months earlier – before the Hilton was even mine.  My dad had leant it to my sister so she could move some things.  She tried to park it in a car garage in Walnut Creek, and… well it didn’t fit.  So the roof got a gaping hole in it.  That was two days before I got it.  Not having the money (and still paying rent), I patched it the best I could.  I used water proof duct tape and sprayed over that with a spray rubberized leak fixer.  I was hoping it held until I could do something else.

Then I was in Nevada in November, when my dad died, and it snowed.  There was about 6 inches of melting snow on top of my van, but still no problems as far as I could tell.  The first time it rained, I heard a drip, and I checked around.  Water was definitely leaking in the rear door somehow.  I figured it was time to get the roof fixed.  So I went to an auto repair shop.  They peeled off my makeshift patch – now soggy duct tape, and showed me a soggy broken fiberglass hole.  They put some patch on it for $800, and I felt safe once again.

However, the first night it rained this past week, once again, I heard drips, and sure enough, water was coming in the back window or door or… somewhere!  So I bought some door sealing tape and some stuff called Mortite – which is like a putty caulking.  I put the tape around the door, and when I examined the back window, I thought it could be coming in there.  The next night, it rained again, as I knew it would.  I heard drips that were a little more muffled.  I checked the place I knew was dripping the night before, and it was dry.  My sealing seemed to have stopped that.  But searching a little more thoroughly, I found that the inside of the cabinets that are part of the hightop roof were wet.

The patch seems to be tight though, so I don’t think it’s that.  It has to be the seams where the roof and the van are connected.  That’s the only way that water could be getting into those cabinets!  I think maybe when she tried to drive the van into the garage, it may have hit hard enough to shift those seams, or loosen that connection.

There is supposed to be about a week of no rain, so I’m going to let it dry good – leaving the cabinets open, and then I’m going to use the Mortite all along that seam at the top.  It’s supposed to rain the following week, so I’ll be able to tell whether that solves the problem.  I don’t want to save money on rent, only to have to spend it on Van repairs.  But I am committed to this lifestyle so, I’m just hoping here.  If anyone has any other suggestions or similar experience, advice is appreciated.

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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.

 

Cold Starry Night — December 1, 2015

Cold Starry Night

I’ve now been living in The Hilton for four months.  A couple weeks ago, I purchased a camping pass at Thousand Trails.  Since I get three days a week off, this turns out to be a perfect solution for my question about what to do with the weekends.  Until my parents died, I used to go visit them.

After four months of living in the van, I can truly say that it has been beneficial for me.  This past weekend, I bought a coleman stove and took myself camping in my van.  It was cold – freezing, as water that I’d left out over night was ice in the morning.  However I was warm and content as I slept.

The final night, I built a campfire and stared into it for hours as the sky darkened.  I’ve been grieving for weeks over the death of my parents, and that extended into grieving for the deaths of my two cats over the summer.  And after some time, the fire died and became cold.  I stood up and it was completely dark around me.  There was no moon, and no light.  There was utter silence, and frigid air surrounding me.  But I looked up and there were thousands of points of light permeating the sky.  Cold and brilliant stars.  At that moment, I knew the world was beautiful.  And though I felt small, I didn’t feel diminished, but bright, like one of the stars, shining my own truth and existence, and my life had meaning.

Living in four walls surrounded by my purchased things, the world was small, and it turned in on itself and weighed on my heart and on my very being.  But standing there, with only the basic necessities tucked in my van, I understood that materialism and consumerism blocks us from authenticity.  Our world becomes our things, and we think they mean something.  We are blocked off from the cold, the heat, the stars, the vastness of the world, and from it’s beauty.  We are blocked from fully experiencing the human condition in nature.  And so many of us are lonely.

During the day, there were so many birds in the trees and on the ground around the trees foraging for the seeds.  Beautiful birds, like blue jays, and plain small brown ones. They were all just going about their lives around me.  I just sat still and observed.  It’s no wonder that the ancients needed religion to explain their worlds.  The sense of awe is overwhelming, and they could put their place into their world into perspective.  But we are guarded from that in our modern world.  There is something about thinking the world is all about us that actually detracts, not only from the beauty of the world, but from the beauty of ourselves.

 

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!

Outside the Boundaries — October 14, 2015

Outside the Boundaries

I had this philosophy professor who used to quote William James.  He said that there are two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who live in one story houses, and those who live in two story houses.  The people with only one story, they live in their house, on their one floor, and they are happy.  Life flows for them.  But the people who live in the two story houses, they also live in one story.  They live on the first floor and go about their lives, just as the people in the one story houses do, but they live with angst.  Mostly they do all the same conventional things the one story people do, but they always suspect that maybe there is a second story.

I combed William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, and I never came across that quote, so I actually attribute it to my philosophy professor.  That quote has stuck with me because, all along, I’ve had some angst.  And when I heard that from him, that was the first time that I knew that I wasn’t alone.  He used to say that, you can’t change it.  You either live in a one story house, or a two story house, and that’s that!  But he also said that the people who live in two story houses are in good company as Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, and Plato’s Socrates lived in two story houses.  Those who live in two story houses search for some depth and meaning in their lives.

When I was planning to move into the van, i had hoped that somehow I would find meaning.  At the very least, I was ridding myself of trappings that people in our society value, so I could stop thinking that those things would bring meaning to my life.  I don’t know that I have necessarily found meaning living in a van, but what it has done, is freed up my mind.

I used to suffer from depression.  I would drive in commute traffic to work each day, and drive in very slow, stop and go, commute traffic back home every day, only to go to sleep and do it all again the next day.  And I used to fret over managing my money so I could pay the rent and the power.  Living in the van has lifted that depression.  It’s been two and a half months now, and I’m not saying that the depression won’t return, but I am leaning toward thinking it was situational and not chemical.  Commuting only to sleep and make decisions about what bills to pay was not how I wanted to live my life.

But I think it’s more than that.  When I was in graduate school I had a professor who believed that we have templates that are set by our upbringing, and our culture and social conventions, and that template determines how we view the world.  That template can’t be changed, but it can be expanded.  Expanding the template requires us to step outside of it.  What living in the van has done was allow me to step outside that template and to force a paradigm shift that has changed the values and meaning in my life.

Two Towels Please — October 5, 2015

Two Towels Please

Each morning on the days that I work, I go to the campus gym and shower.  It opens at 6:00 AM, and I start work at 7:00 AM.  The campus gym provides towels, and then launders those towels each day.  The routine is that I go into the women’s locker room, get undressed, grab two towels that are right next to the shower area, and shower.  When I’m done, I put the towels in the used towel bin.

Today, I went to the gym, but when I got undressed, and got to the shower area, there were no towels.  I had to put my dress back on and go out to the front desk and get towels.  Irritating!  But not as irritating as getting to the front desk (where there was a bin full of clean towels) grabbing a towel, and being told by the 18 year-old student attendant, “Ma’am, I am supposed to hand out the towels!” And she handed me the towel I had just picked up.  I, in my half-dressed state, said, “can I have two towels please?”  And she handed me a second towel, which I took and proceeded to go through my morning routine.

I always feel a little self-conscious going to the gym because, I get there as soon as it opens, and I shower immediately.  Sometimes the janitors have just finished cleaning the shower area, and I’m in there.  I don’t work out first, which most people do.  So now, I have to bring attention to that by asking for my towels in advance.

I am no stranger to this gym.  I have been a member for some time, and have worked out for stretches of time, but now that I start work at 7:00, I really don’t have time to work out, shower, and get to my job on time.  So working out in advance isn’t a solution.  But why do I need a solution at all?  Why can’t I just go in and ask for my two towels at 6:00 AM and  go about my day?  I pay for my membership there (staff have to pay for access, and I do!  I pay $35 per month, plus $20 for my full size locker).  It’s really none of their business how I use the gym as long as I’m not doing anything against the rules.

What it really comes down to, is that somewhere in my mind, I am afraid that the attendant will know that I am houseless.  Knowing that I am houseless means that she will think I am “less than” in the social hierarchy.  Now that’s not the biggest problem.  The real issue is that, I wouldn’t think that unless somewhere in my head, I think that about myself because I am houseless. On a rational level, I know this is ridiculous.  But somewhere, ingrained in my psyche through years of cultural training, I think this!  Being products of our culture, we all think this.

It’s important to counter these thoughts and any actions that affirm these thoughts as soon as they come up because, in the end, we are creating our own worth in the society, by how we treat ourselves, and think about ourselves, and how we allow others to treat us.  This manifests itself in not looking others in the eye, or not holding eye contact, glancing down or glancing away.  Watch the body language!  Just changing the body language can change the thought process.

During my shower, I ran through several scenarios about what I would say if anyone ever asks me why I just come in and shower, or if they ever try to say that the shower is only for those who actually use the gym.  In addition, I started thinking about ways I would not have to encounter the attendant, and bypass asking for the towels.  I could bring my own towels, and wash them every week.

But I don’t need excuses!  Once again, I pay for my access to that gym!  No one is going to tell me I have to workout first!  She may wonder about why I come in and shower first thing, but it’s not her business, and she probably wonders far less than I think she does.  It’s not my job to behave in a way that makes her think differently about me.

Plus, there are many reasons a person might come into a gym and shower immediately OTHER than being houseless.  In fact, I used to do this for periods of time when I had an apartment.  Once, I was recovering from an injury and couldn’t work out, but wanted to keep up the routine.  Once, I was ending a relationship, and wanted to spend as little time in my apartment with my boyfriend as possible, so I’d get up immediately and go to the gym and shower.  Sometimes I would just shower because I had no motivation to work out, but I didn’t want to lose the routine.  Some people workout, running or other exercise, outside of the gym before the gym opens.

No, I can’t control what she thinks about my reasons, and no one is going to change the policy and force me to workout first.  It’s actually pretty narcissistic of me to think that could happen.  I will go to the gym four mornings a week, stand tall, and look the young attendant directly in the eye and say, “Two towels please!”

Settling in — September 30, 2015

Settling in

It’s now been two months since moving into my van, and I feel like I’m starting to settle in.  I am sleeping much better than I used to, and sometimes I forget that I’m sleeping in a van on a public street.  However, last night I didn’t forget.  At first I did, but at nearly 2:00 AM someone checked one of my doors to see if it was unlocked, and that unsettled me for a good half hour, and then gave me dreams about people around my van for the rest of the night.  Too bad too, because before that, I was having the most comfortable sleep.

However, that’s the first time that’s happened that I’ve noticed, but I’m sure it won’t be the last!  I’m sure there are people that check for unlocked cars regularly in the middle of the night.  What I need to do is make sure the panic button on my remote key thingy works.  I bet that if the car started beeping, that would scare away any potential thieves.  My biggest fear is that someone will break a window.

In all the time I’ve lived in Berkeley, my car window has only been broken once, and that was when I left my bag on the passenger seat in my car when I went in somewhere late at night.  Someone broke the window and stole the bag.  I try not to leave anything too inviting in the visible seats of my van, but I do keep my shoes on the floorboard of the passenger front seat.  Hey, storage space is at a premium!

No one promised that living in a van would be without risks, but it wouldn’t be an adventure if it were perfectly safe, and everyone would be doing it!  Or at least…. I don’t see why they wouldn’t!  In fact, I don’t see why more people aren’t doing it now.  Since I don’t pay rent anymore, I don’t see why any reasonable single person would pay rent but… I’ll keep my secret!

Things are a lot easier now.  I have settled into a routine that works for me each night and each morning.  I’ve found that I like to park and get settled in early, because I like the way it feels being in my van in the evening just as the sun is going down.  My concerns about parking are more about the physical space now, and they used to be about who could potentially notice me.  Now I look for a space that is relatively flat and level, and is positioned so that no one can park and block me in.  I’ve been blocked in twice and I’ve learned not to allow that to happen.  It’s a bitch getting out of a tight space driving a van!

I rarely eat in the van.  I’ve found that doing so is more trouble than it’s worth, so I eat at a table somewhere.  Whole Foods Market has tables where I can sit and eat on the weekends, and during the week I eat mostly at work.

I’m far less paranoid about people seeing or hearing me now than I used to be.  We’ll see how it goes as the Fall, and eventually the Winter sets in.  Here’s to another month at The Hilton!!

It’s a Public Street! — September 28, 2015

It’s a Public Street!

On Saturday night I had my first incident of someone bothering me in my van.  It wasn’t so big of a deal, it’s just that I’m used to no one noticing me at all.  I parked to sleep at about 9:30, and I was watching a video on my cell phone when I noticed a bright white flash.   I ignored the first one, but then noticed it again… I looked out the window and saw no one, but then there it was again.  I guess it was about 4 or 5 times.  I looked out the window and saw that someone, not the police, was taking photos of my van, and of the license plate.

If I hadn’t noticed, I probably would have just gone to sleep and woken up without incidence.  But it kind of freaked me out, so I stepped outside – it was about 10:30 by this time – and I saw the guy across the street.  I said, “excuse me, can I help you with something?”

He then walked back across the street and said that he’d been taking the pictures for a friend, and pointed to a house, because the friend didn’t recognize the car, and she usually recognizes the cars in the area.  I don’t know what he or his friend thought they would do with the pictures, or what they will do but, here’s the thing.  It is not illegal to sleep in your car in the city of Berkeley!  It’s really none of their business where I park The Hilton.  I work and buy stuff and pay taxes…. ergo, my street!

I actually don’t think he knew I was in the van – I think he wouldn’t have been so bold about taking the photos.  He was clearly kind of embarrassed about having taken the photos when I confronted him.  I said, “This is a public street, and I am allowed to park here.”  He agreed, that it was a public street.  I was actually quite annoyed about the whole matter.  So I went back into my van and continued to watch my video.

Eventually I knew I wouldn’t sleep well there, so I left.  However, part of the reason I left was because I have Nevada Plates in California, and it may be that my driver’s license is suspended.  I don’t know if it is, but I really need to find out about that.  All I have to do is pay some ridiculous fine.  Also, when the registration expires, I will register the van in California.  If those two issues had been cleared up, I would have been defiant and slept there.

I’m really just annoyed that someone would take it upon her or himself to police the public street!  That they would take pictures of my van!  Get a damn life already!

This is The Hilton by the way:

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Freedom — September 22, 2015

Freedom

I went to visit my parents again this past weekend, and driving back, over the mountain, my windows open, and my clothing that hangs just behind my seats flapping in the wind, I realized that at that moment, I was so happy!  I want that!  I want to drive over the mountains, stop and sleep wherever I’m moved to do so.

On the way there, I was getting tired.  It was after a 10 hour work day, and it’s a four hour drive to my parents’ house.  I was two hours into it, so decided to stop at Denny’s and get coffee.  After the coffee I still didn’t feel alert enough to continue the two hour drive over the winding mountain highway, so I went up to the Denny’s manager and told her I was traveling.  I asked her if she would mind if I just slept in the parking lot for a couple hours.  She said, “Of course!  You can sleep there as long as you want!”  So I went out to the Hilton and slept.  I woke up at 6:00 am and went on my way.

Can I get through three more years of working a 40 hour work week?  I’ve been at this place for some time, and while once I thought I was moving up in the world, I found out that up was no where – that it was empty.  I really just want to be traveling and camping and wearing ripped up blue jeans!

I want to be a tarot reader and a jewelry maker.  And I want the freedom to live a bohemian lifestyle.  Three years… why do I hold on to that?  I guess it’s worth it for now.  I went down to a 4 day work week, and on the three days I’m off.. I have no home, no where I have to be… just my van, and where ever I want to go.  I feel free!