December 29, 2011

Frozen Locks

Someone always has it worse
I fell asleep on a friend's couch last night and woke up at 7am to go to work. To the parking lot I skipped ready for a day of phone answering and book scanning but apparently it was pretty cold last night and the car lock had frozen shut! So there I am in the freezing cold trying the pry the door open without setting off the alarm or snapping the key off in the lock. Finally I called work to say I was going to be late and had to wait for the sun to come out. If I had been in the car I would have been able to start it and thaw the lock from the inside... Yet another reason why it is a good idea to sleep in my car in the winter.

Just as a side note, you may remember that I moved into my car because it really hates the New England winters. Last year it kept refusing to start and I eventually gave up my apartment so that I wouldn't miss work and classes. Looks like that was a good move because this probably would have happened a few times by now.

Only two more days of 2011! The count down is on.

December 27, 2011

Christmas 2011

First off, I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and thank you to those who took time out to email me with info and opinions on my New Orleans scheme.

My Christmas started on Saturday when I drove up to New Hampshire stopping at some shops along the way to pick up last minute gifts. This is my first mobile Christmas and the hardest part was that I couldn’t set things aside because I didn’t have any place to store early purchases.

So I drove up to New Hampshire and straight to my friend’s house. She and the family had gone about an hour south for Christmas Eve so I had the whole place to myself. I poured a glass of wine and leisurely wrapped gifts by listening to Bing Crosby tunes. Everyone was home by 8:30, the reindeer and Santa were fed by 9:00, we read The Night Before Christmas, and the kids went to bed with relatively little fuss. Julie and I sat up drinking wine and playing scrabble, her husband did some wrapping, we did the Christmas stuff, and we were in bed by 1am. Apparently my sleeping in the living room on the pull out couch would have scared Santa away, so I slept in M’s room which was pretty comfy thanks to mega carpeting.

When I was a kid my sister and I would try to stay up to see Santa and catch him in the act. We would poke each other to stay awake and sneak down the stairs multiple times throughout the night. Not these kids: when they went down it was for the count and M got up at 6:30, his regular time. Everything was ripped open within thirty minutes and by 8am I was out the door and heading towards my parent’s house. They made me breakfast, gave me some awesomely useful gifts (Food!), and promised me a puppy. It was nice and low key, just the way Christmas should be when there are no little kids in the house.

After that it was off to see the L and S, the other set of kids (have you noticed that I tend to adopt families?). I had a nice visit and then headed out. Ham and Turkey and others delights for dinner (at 3pm) and then Christmas was over and we all collapsed. Well, there was some cleaning to do but Julie and I were in bed by about 9pm.

It was a fun time but I’m very glad it’s over. Christmas is always hectic, expensive, and hard on my car. I passed 198,000 miles this weekend! Oh! I also got rear ended by a very nice Venezuelan man in Dover New Hampshire on Christmas Eve. At the time I didn’t think there was any damage but turns out there’s a dent right on my trunk latch which is making the lock stick. Not like anyone would notice one more ding, but it’s my home!

December 22, 2011

Thanks Peanut Gallery!

Thanks to all of my life coaches out there for giving me some great advice on a potential New Orleans move. It sounds like the city has mixed reviews from residents, both former and current, but in general people seemed to think the benifits of the teaching job would outweigh the risks. I still have some people to chat with and my mind probubly won't be made up until the morning after I graduate, but I'm on the right track.

About ten years ago my sister and I drove to New Orleans where I was planning to get a job and settle down. Thanks to a tropical storm and the hostel's evacuation we ended up bumming around Texas and Colorado for a bit, but I really liked what I saw.

General concencious is that whatever I choose I won't be able to stick with it for more than a year thanks to an incredably short attention span. If you have advice or opinions, send them along.

December 21, 2011

Teach NOLA

I recognize that I have a very short attention span and you guys are always hearing about my latest and greatest life plan. Usually I jump around a lot until I’m right down to the wire and then settle on one course of action and with this brand spanking new degree my courses are pretty wide open.

So here’s the latest: teach NOLA. Everyone out there remembers Katrina, some of you were even in it or knew people that were. A lot of damage was done, people were displaced, whole neighborhoods were knocked down and over the last few years people have been trying to put their lives back together. Part of those lives involve schooling. 

The New Orleans school system (LA in general, really) was never good. That’s an understatement. Since 1992 (probably much earlier) Louisiana has tested significantly lower than the national average in reading, writing, math and science. Since Katrina things have only gotten worse and students have been slow to get back to school. Some families were relocated to other states; some kids were left with no home, broken families, desperate neighborhoods. As of now only 60%of students have returned to New Orleans schools, up from 47% on 2007. One good thing that Katrina did was draw attention to the state of New Orleans schools and give them a reason to clean up their act. The city of New Orleans has a program they're calling teachNOLA fellowships, where people can apply to be teachers in high need schools. 

See that? I qualify for all of that. There are health benefits and the salary is pretty good too.

Things I Need To Consider:
  • If my application is accepted I have to go have an interview in New Orleans within two weeks
    • I think they are trying to encourage locals and I understand that they want to meet potentials in person, but come on people!
  • Salary versus cost of living
    • Potential Salary: $40k/year
    • Average rent: $400-$600/month = $4,800-$7,200/year
  • Living in general
    • How do you think a southern school district will feel about one of there teachers living in a van? hmm...
  • There is a $30 Application Fee
    • It's like a college application! I can request a waiver so not too much of an expense.
  • The application deadline is January 23rd. 
    • Not much time to dilly dally!
So this is what's going through my head:
  1. I can use my degree, which is centered around high needs education
  2. Working there will get me a teaching licence which I can then use to teach in most other states
    • In order to teach in another state I need to take some tests and do in classroom training
  3. I would have summers off so I wouldn't have to stay in the hot and muggy weather
    • Summers would also give me a chance to do some research, travel, or write 
  4. I would be living in New Orleans!
Come on ladies and gents: I need my global peanut gallery for this one. What do you think of my plan?

December 19, 2011

Post Semester Sicklies

Fall semester is over, finals are over, and I'm sick. I'll bet than it's adrenalin withdrawal rather than a bug, but that doesn't make it any better. Lucky for me I'm house sitting for a friend while she's home for the holidays. That means I have a futon to crash on and the Disney channel to veg in front of. It also means I can escape the pre Christmas crazies that have taken over my parking lot. On Saturday, my first day with no homework to do, I slept until 1pm and woke up to a very loud car alarm going off a few spaces over. I haven't slept that late in ten years so I really shouldn't haven been surprised when sickness followed.

In other news, I got an email about Florida today and my traveling partner might be pulling out. More to come!

December 15, 2011

Ikea Home Planner

This is kind of addictive so I'm hesitent to pass it along... but it's so much fun!

I've been talking to some van dwellers who like to use Ikea. They kind of specialize in small spaces and easily assembled stuff so it makes sense. Yesterday I spent some time on the Ikea website looking at tiny stoves and other cool stuff, when I found their home planner. Yes, it's meant to be used for a little apartment in SoHo, but plug in the dimentions of your vehicle and you can furnish it, paint it, put in cabinets... basicly you can waste an afternoon dreaming about all the stuff you could do. So check it out!

December 14, 2011

Creepy Van Guy (.com)

I'm in the middle of finals week (so not a ton of time to post) but I thought I would give you some Wednesday happy.  Check out The Creepy Van Guy for unique vans seen around the country.

December 13, 2011

Hometown Travel

This morning it was back to my many unanswered emails (thanks for being patient). A bunch of people were saying how they wanted to ramble but temperarily chained down. Well, here you go folks:

Some people cannot leave their current location. Maybe they have a house they just can’t walk away from or kids in school or a parent they need to be near. This can get frustrating, I’m less tied down than most people but being in college still keeps me locked into a region when I would much rather be globetrotting. Remember that quote, “the grass is always greener…”? The fact is that you probably have some pretty cool stuff going on right in or near your town. If you can’t travel across the country, think about traveling across the county instead. Here’s how you can get started.
  • Most towns have a community web page and calendars, like this one in Springfield Mass. Maybe there’s a play going on or an art exhibit nearby.
  • If you can’t fly to Thailand, maybe you can go out to a Thai restaurant or make a Thai dish at home. Check out's wold cuisine section for ideas like Morocan Ksra and Spanish Tapas.
  • OK, so no one really likes subtitles, but there are some great foreign films out there that can really give you a sence of the culture better than Hollywood does. Try touring the world through cinima by having travel film nights. Here are some of my favorites
  • There are people that come to your state from other states just to see all the cool stuff that you probubly take for grantid. Take advantage of your state's tourism department or even a border state for a day trip. New Hampshire (my home state) has a great web site with itineraries and info on shopping and play, I'm sure your state has something similar. 
  • Technology is something else. Did you know that there are walking tours of almost anywhere availible through iPhone? Rick Steves (awesome!) has walking tours of  international cities, but there are tours of everywhere from major US cities to parks and trails through sites like City Slickers and GPS My City.
These are just a few of the many options you have. Don't feel like just because a job or house is tying you down you can't have some adventures.

December 12, 2011

How To "Home" Shop

For us, picking out a new rig is no small thing. It's the same as "ordinary" people shopping for a home and we have to do a lot of the same research.

First, think about what you need from your new vehicle.
  • How much space? 
  • Will you be traveling a lot? 
    • If so, what MPG are you comfortable with? 
  • Sometimes bigger is not better but seriously think about what you can live with long term.

Second, do some research. Now that you know what you want you can start looking for the vehicle that's right for you. Find something that matches your needs as much as possible, but be flexible.
  • Uhaul Vehicle Specs
    • Who knows more about vehicle specs than a company whose job it is to rent vehicles? Check out this site for all the dimensions, MPG, tank capacity, and towing capacity of your favorite van or box truck.
Third, you know what you want and what vehicle will best accommodate you, but before you can start searching for that perfect rig think about how much you're willing to spend. Have realistic expectations, think about the sedentary life and how much you would be spending on an apartment.
  • In New Hampshire I was paying about $700 per month for a one bedroom which  works out to $8,400 per year. Figure you will have this vehicle for at least five years, that's $42,000. 
    • Yeah, you read that right. If you are paying $700 per month for an apartment with heat, hot water, and electric included you will be shelling out $42,000 over the next five years. The worst part is that at the end of five years you will be walking away with nothing. nada. nill. 
  • Now that I have your attention, start thinking of your vehicle as an investment and realistically budget for the expense. Yeah, you can get a box van for $2,000  but keep in mind that you're going to have this for a while and even a $10,000 truck will save you $32,000 in the long run.
  • Think about financing. Ok, so we don't all have great (or even good) credit, myself included, but one of the great things about the whole country having lousy credit is that the dealers still have to sell to someone. That means they are dropping their standards and we have half a chance at a loan.
    • Think of a vehicle loan like rent or a mortgage. Remember: a five year loan with a minimum payment of $200 is still $500 less than that apartment would be costing you.
      • Note: My mother use to tell me that you should be spending 1/3 of your income on rent. While this is ideal, times have changed and it's hard to find an apartment to fit that percentage of our income (mine would cost about $200...). While sticks and bricks don't come this cheap, you can use this to figure out what you can afford in terms of a monthly payment.
Fourth, start shopping. You are now an informed buyer with a rough idea of what you're looking for and how much you are able to spend. Don't settle, this is your home, but don't be too ridged either. 

Thanks to everyone who has given me great advice over the past few months. I'm going to start some serious vehicle shopping in the next month so stay tuned and see this process in action. PS: Advice and suggestions are always welcome!

December 10, 2011

Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming (yeah, I'm not ready either) and I keep getting emails asking what I want this year. Most people have figured out that a holiday candle isn't really going to work for me, but they can't bring themselves to gift wrap a traffic cone. Personally I've told everyone to make a donation to their favorite charity instead of buying me stuff, but if you're looking to get the vehicle dweller in your life a physical present this holiday season, here are some ideas.

A good watch can be a great investment, especially with all the cool things they can do these days. For vehicle dwellers it's all about convenience and versatility. "Sporty and surprisingly elegant, Casio watches offer the precision of dual analog and digital quartz movement, as well as a 10-year battery life for longterm wear. Packed with innovative and helpful features--from a 30-page databank to world time for 30 cities (29 time zones)--this high-performance timepiece has an LED light with afterglow, three daily alarms, and an hourly time signal to keep your day on-track. There's also a 1/100 second digital stopwatch, auto calendar pre-programmed until the year 2099, and easy-to-use black polyurethane selector buttons." - Product Description 

Highly recommended by many vehicle dwellers, this lightweight cooking option is great if you don't have room for a stove in your rig. "Our ultracompact 1 liter unit is ideal for dehydrated meals, coffee or tea on the go, remote worksites, and emergency kits. Travel light and prep easy. The Personal Cooking System (PCS) is a complete food and beverage multi-tool you can hold in your hand and weighs about a pound. Lights with the click of a button, and within two minutes you’ve got two cups of boiling water ready for coffee or a quick meal. Pack components, fuel and accessories into the Nalgene-sized cup for convenient transport." - Product Description

Some vehicle dwellers have a full kitchen while others (like me) cook on a tin can. Whatever your cooking needs remember that weight is an issue so go with something light, like this aluminum mess kit. Super cheap and very compact, it works great on my tin can or in an apartment.

Wireless Dehumidifier - $25
Condensation is something that I constantly battle with on cooler nights even if you're parked around fifty other cars, those foggy windows can give you away to a security guard. This portable option was recommended to me.

Leatherman - $20 to $100
A Leatherman is like a Swiss army knife for big kids. There are so many shapes and sizes, something for everyone and they will be used daily. 

GPS - $70 and Up
A lot of us are of the mind that the journey is more important that the destination. That journey, however, often includes lots of wrong turns, back roads, and that moment when the gas needle dips below the empty line. I've never owned a GPS but those who have tell me they wouldn't be without it. The new ones tell you the nearest gas stations, road closures, even traffic.

Road Atlas - $11
It might not sound like much, but maps come in handy and we like them for planning almost as much as for actual travel. If your vehicle dweller is on the road a lot or planning to be, get them something to feed their imagination.

Kindle - $75
I have spoken many times about how much I love my Kindle. Getting a vehicle dweller a Kindle is like giving us a portable library. 
AAA Membership - $54
The AAA card gets you roadside assistance and discounts on lodging, insurance, food, etc. Not a bad thing to have if you're out and about in the world.

These are some suggestions but talk to your vehicle dweller (hmm, that makes us sound like pets or loan agents...) about what they need. Most of us will tell you that space is more important to us than the stuff to fill it. The fact that we live like we do means that the "things" are really not at the top of our list unless they can make our lives dramatically easier. Family and friends, especially non judgmental ones, are very much appreciated during the holiday season. Less than two weeks to Christmas, Happy Holidays!
I would also suggest you check out the "Helpful Books" page on this blog.

The Florida Route

Though we are having trouble pinning down the exact plans, it looks like I'm heading to Tampa Florida with some friends for New Years. 
  1. I will leave from mass and drive the Go-Go Gadget red car to Pennsylvania to meet a friend. 
  2. We'll drive her car to DC where we will potentially meet another friend and spend the day bumming around the city. I haven't been to DC since I was thirteen so I have really been wanting to go back.
  3. The now three of us will drive the 900 miles to Tampa where we will be reunited with a bunch of old friends from all over the country. New Years Eve will be awesome
  4. While I think leaving Florida on January 1st is a bad plan, we will at some point drive North, maybe stopping in Savannah along the way. 
  5. 900 miles (and a bit) later and I'll get my car from Pennsylvania and drive back to Mass.
Yes, I could fly down and back for more money though much less time, but where's the fun in that? Getting there is the adventure and I plan on taking lots of pictures, so stay tuned.

My questions to you, ladies and gentlemen:
  • Is there anything that we would be crazy not to see along this route? I haven't been down south in almost ten years and, besides a few sections of Virginia, I didn't spend a lot of time there. 
  • Are there any good places to rest along the way? While I am use to vehicle living and more than happy to crash in a store parking lot, the other passengers are pretty green. Does anyone know of a good out of the way camping area, maybe in Virginia, that we could crash? I'll have to check out the free camping site before the trip.
The World is a book, 
and those who do not travel read only a page.  
~St. Augustine

December 9, 2011

Latcho Drom

I've been getting a lot of emails lately about different nomadic cultures in the world and right here in the US. One reader recommended this film and I thought I'd pass it on to all of you. Here's a preview:

This is a clip from the 1993 film Latcho Drom (or Safe Journey) which follows the Romany around Europe for a year. Check it out, I'm definitely going to.

Hey, It's Me!

For the past nine months you have all be sharing my ups and downs. You've seen my home, my grades, my gadgets and now you get to see me. You might have noticed that my profile picture is no longer a banjo playing frog but a real live person: yours truly.

I did this for two reasons.
  • First, while safety is still my number one priority, I understand the system better now than I use to. Many of you have shared your image and it's time that I shared mine.
  • Second, and most importantly for me, I wanted to show a picture of a modern houseless/vehicle dwelling gypsy. There was a student this past weekend who was talking about characteristics of the greater homeless population in our area. She said she could pick them out across a parking lot by appearance and I'm sure you guessed that those comments got my dander up a bit. I think I look pretty normal (if you don't think so, don't tell me) and most people would not guess at my living situation. There are more of us out there than you might realize and we are not all dirty delinquents. You stand next to us at the grocery, sit behind us in the theater, and discuss books with us on the bus. 
Thanks for sticking around, it's been very helpful to have this community on cyber speed dial.

December 7, 2011

The Lady on the Bus

The bus this evening was fairly empty, except for a few ultra dedicated grad students and a woman (maybe mid 70s) with a bunch of shopping bags stuffed with clothing and trinkets. I sat in the first seat towards the front of the bus and stared out the window at a rainy college town, but the bus had barley started moving when the woman began chatting with me about my umbrella. She said I should go to the dollar store and pick up some white trash bags to put the umbrella in when it was wet, and maybe make some sort of base so that the umbrella wouldn't poke through the bottom. She had all sorts of plans for how to make this umbrella holder functional and usable, whatever the use was suppose to be. We talked for a while, mainly she talked about some feud she was having with what sounded like an auctioneer, but her earlier comment struck me.

We live in a world where everyone wants stuff. You, me, your uncle, my hairdresser: we all want stuff. I want one of those infomercial pans that makes the perfect meat loaf, even though I can make meatloaf without it, and that's the catch. We are conditioned to want stuff like a meatloaf pan with a removable base or an electric can opener or a stove that boils water in ten seconds instead of ten minutes. We live in a society where these little inventions to make life easier are highly valued and sought after. The possession or ability to posses these things has come to define who we are to both ourselves and to those around us. So what happens to a person who can't have those things? 

Most of the people reading this blog are either in a position to get at least some of the things that they want, or have decided that what they want is the absence of those things. This woman, with her bags of clothing and inventive design for an unnecessary product, was a paradox of reality meeting fantasy. A person raised to value the possession of “widgets” but unable to own a “widget” herself, so she creates a proxy. She carries things around in grocery bags because they represent what she believes she is suppose to have. They give her worth and, even though it's probably a hassle to lug it all with her, she gets comfort from her possessions.

We like to think of ourselves as enlightened, I know I do. But the fact is that we are all social constructions: products of the culture that we were raised in. We value things, and not just physical things but emotions and ideals and beliefs, because we are social beings and we grow up with a certain ideology. Sometimes I think that the hardest thing we can do is break our social conditioning. To recognize that expectations, even our own, are not foolproof. Just because thousands of people think you need to posses certain things, like a house or a bed or a big TV, doesn’t mean they are right. Individual facts cannot be dictated by the majority. Sometimes we need to let go of the group fantasy in order to find our individual ideal.