Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Well, duh!

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream...
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void…


There I was, like most nights, my eyes too tired to read but my brain not too tired to keep me awake.

"Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Let's think of stuff! Okay? Hi! Hi! Hi!..." it says.

"Anything in particular?" I ask.

"Nah. Whatever. Hi!"

"Alright alright. Just shut up, okay?"


A while later, amid the jumble of random thoughts, I had a realization. I keep my clothing in two bins under the bed. Every time I want to get something clean to wear I need to drag the bins out, which means moving several other things. The heater, the coin jar, some water jugs. Then I have to put it all back.

Meanwhile, the top compartment of my steel cabinet contains mostly stuff I seldom need access to. Here comes the epiphany. Why don't I put the clothing in the cabinet and the other stuff in the bins under the bed?

The only question was whether the cabinet could hold two bins worth of clothes. I wasn't going to jump up right then to see. I needed my beauty rest.

So, not all that bright and early this morning, I started moving my stuff around. 

Might it work? 



Pants on the left, shirts on the right, tissues and a few other non-wearable things in the middle

As a bonus, I was able to get rid of three more containers whose purpose was to keep all that nonessential stuff from rattling-sliding-flying around the cabinet.

Can you tell I'd had the yellow one since the '90s?

I feel so smart now. I think I'll reward my brilliance with a nap.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Straighten up

After I woke up this morning, got my eyes de-crusted and put on my eyeglasses, I noticed my surroundings were kind of messy. A hoodie tossed here. Yesterday's shirt tossed there. Dinner dishes abandoned on the counter, next to old mail and the camera. Computer cables and chargers tangled on the shelf. Things sticking out the top of the wastebasket. The rumpled quilt (tempting as it was to crawl back under and sleep another twelve hours) only added to the effect.

It can get cluttered very quickly when you live in only 60 square feet. Combined with the winter blahs, it can make me feel like a slobbish failure. Fortunately, it cleans up quickly and easily.

Clothing in the laundry bag.

Quilt in the stuff sack.

Cables and chargers put away.

Dishes washed and put away.

Trash taken to the dumpster.

Ah, there we go. Everything looking tidy and clean. Mom would be so proud.

Now I can be lazy.

Monday, December 29, 2014

An experiment in traditional gender roles

Lesa lived several years with the indigenous people of Costa Rica, where she cooked daily on wood fires.
You can tell she knows what she's doing.

My platonic friend, Lesa, had cooked some sweet potatoes in her new Dutch oven and was eager to use it some more.

"How about some stew?" I suggested.

"Oooo, that would be great. And easy," she replied.

"I'll go get the fixings."

I didn't butcher a cow or hunt the vicious chorizo. I bought it. But that still counts as putting the meat on the table, right? Man's work. Feel the testosterone.

Then she cooked it up. Woman's work. Or so some people claim.

Beef, pork chorizo, potatoes. carrots, onions, mushrooms

Then we ate it, which is everyone's job. It was mighty tasty. The chorizo gave it that extra something that made it more than just stew.

The leftovers are sitting in my fridge, since Lesa doesn't have one. She's welcome to them any time.

Really, though, I'm no fan of traditional gender roles. Each person has things they're good at, things they enjoy doing. It's silly to assign responsibilities according to the genitalia one happens to be born with. You could end up with a lot of people expected to do things they have no talent for. I wouldn't have felt emasculated if Lesa had bought the ingredients and I cooked them. It's just sharing, just doing what works. And enjoying the results.

By the frozen yogurt shop

Yuma, Arizona

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Snug as a bug

Canadians are generally very nice people—except when they send freezing temperatures to southern Arizona. Maybe homesick snowbirds had it shipped in for the holidays. Whatever the cause, I'm not a big fan.

Fortunately, my down quilt is serving me well. This morning, before sunrise (it's always coldest before the dawn), I thought how comfortable I was. No extreme measures. Just me in t-shirt, jeans and socks, under the quilt, with a corner of it wrapped over my head, leaving a breathing hole. Sure, there was a tiny hint of coolness, but it was a temperature I would be thrilled with in summer. Just right for turning over and sleeping until the sun broke over the mountains. Aaaaaaaaaaah...

Friday, December 26, 2014

Out from obscurity

Back in October I wondered whatever happened to blanket pins. As it turns out, they're still around, just harder to find. There is no Blanket Pins 'R' Us. No Bed, Bath & Blanket Pins. No International House of Things That Were Quite Common in Your Grandmother's Day.

I guess I could use some hand lotion

I was killing time, wandering around the RV supply/rockhound supply/hardware/housewares store that is also home to the auto glass shop when, tah-dah, trays of blanket pins. In three sizes. I got four of the Mama Bear size. Just the thing to pin the fitted sheet to my mattress to keep it from sliding off.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chet gets his Christmas wish

He's giddy with joy (obviously) that Santasaurus came through for him. He'll be able to ride in the Rose Parade with his fellow Shriners after all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pet sharing: Rochelle

All tuckered out from sniffing my trash

The window bra

According to the wisdom of hot climate dwellers, my windshield cracked because the reflective shade I used trapped heat between it and the glass, causing the glass to overheat. Expansion turned tiny chips into cracks, which became larger cracks. The trick, they say, is to put something over the glass instead of behind it. Okay.

In the meantime, the hot season passed. I wasn't as worried about keeping the Rolling Steel Tent cool. But I occasionally used the reflective shade for privacy.

Then, as I was wandering through an RV supply store, I saw the vinyl wrap-around window covers.

"Oh yeah, those. Do they make them for Chevy vans?"

Yes, they did. And for only $38.

All wrapped for bedtime

My concerns:

1. Would it be a struggle to put in place alone?

No, it was simple. Hook the corner of a side piece over the edge of the door, let the magnet attach to the door, then walk the rest of the cover around the front of the van and attach it to the other door. Put the wipers over the bottom edge.

2. Would it fit decently?

Not like a custom tailored suit, but well enough. It does provide total privacy (except from those with X-ray vision).

3. Will it pack away easily and compactly?

Yes. It even comes with a storage pouch.

4. Will it keep things cooler?

I'll need to wait for summer to find out.

In the meantime, I get to feel superior to other van dwellers, poor sniveling mortals that they are. Neener neener neener.

Let's play another round of What's That Noise!

I woke up from a very pleasant dream at about 4:30AM. There was no need to go back to sleep right away. I read for a while.

Around 5:20 I became aware of a rattling, scratching, tapping sort of noise from somewhere toward the front of the Rolling Steel Tent. I couldn't identify it, partly because my hearing isn't that great—which also makes it hard to determine the direction of sounds. Was it a critter in the wastebasket? A rat in the engine compartment making a home for the winter? Was it gnawing on wires or hoses? Was it something entirely different?

I felt vulnerable half dressed, so I pulled on my pants and shoes, grabbed a flashlight and looked around inside.


But the sound was definitely coming from the dash, or the engine compartment, or on the hood.

Maybe starting the engine would scare away whatever was making the noise.

It didn't.

Okay, time to look outside. I hoped it wasn't a coyote or feral dog.

It wasn't.

In the meantime, the noise stopped. For a few moments.

Then it returned.

Then stopped.

Then returned.

Right now, it's stopped.

Oh, wait, maybe it's one of Santa's elves trying to leave me an early gift.

Not likely. I haven't been a good boy.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Out of one pit of darkness and into another

I visited the Yuma Territorial Prison museum. It was considered a humane prison by end-of-19th-century standards. They had only one windowless cave to lock you up in. But that was probably the most desired place to be in triple-digit summer heat. Otherwise, if you kept out of trouble, you got to share a small cell with five others.

From 1910 to 1914, after the prison had closed, it was used as a high school. Yes, there are all sorts of jokes to be made of that, including their mascot, the Criminals.

Out of the pit of darkness

Hurray for the winter solstice! We've turned the corner. Now the daylight hours will start to get longer. Slowly, but it's the right direction.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Somerton is a small agricultural town south of Yuma, about nine miles from the border. I learned about their annual tamale festival too late last year. I made a point of going this year, because I love tamales.

I'm not the only one who loves a good tamal

There must have been thirty different tamale vendors. Where to start? Look for the ones with the longest lines. And the trophies.

Absolutely the best tamales I've ever had

While I've had elote (sweet corn) tamales before (very nice), I wasn't aware of other sweet variations, like raisin-cinnamon and pineapple. I'll have something new to try next year.

I arrived just as they were announcing the results of the tamale eating contest. The winner packed away twelve in less than three minutes, beating the reigning champion by one.

Last year's champ (left) congratulates the beast who beat him

And I guess nothing goes with tamales like belly dancing.

Tis the season

It's that time of year we voluntary minimalists are supposed to put on the itchy robes of self-righteousness, condemn rampant consumerism and preach the gospel of Less is More.

"Americans buy things to fill the void in their meaningless lives yadda yadda yadda..."

"Free yourselves from the slavery of stuff, move to your inner Waldon and get in touch with your yearning soul blah blah true happiness blah blah blah..."

"Central heating and indoor plumbing are of the devil!"

You're converted, right?


I'll let The Tubes sing it for me:

What do you want from life?
To kidnap an heiress or threaten her with a knife
What do you want from life?
To get cable TV and watch it every night

There you sit, a lump in your chair
Where do you sleep and what do you wear when you're sleeping?

What do you want from life?
An Indian guru to show you the inner light
What do you want from life?
A meaningless love affair with a girl that you met tonight

How can you tell when you're doin' alright?
Does your bank account swell while you're dreaming at night?
How do know when you're really in love?
Do violins play when you're touching the one that you're loving?

What do you want from life?
Someone to love and somebody that you can trust
What do you want from life?
To try and be happy while you do the nasty things you must

Well, you can't have that, but if you're an American citizen you are entitled to:
a heated kidney shaped pool, 
a microwave oven--don't watch the food cook, 
a Dyna-Gym--I'll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home, 
a king-size Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum, 
a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi, 
real simulated Indian jewelry, 
a Gucci shoetree,
a year's supply of antibiotics, 
a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth 
and Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number,
a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick,
Rosemary's baby,
a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams, 
a new Matador, a new mastodon, 
a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego, 
a Merc Montclair, a Mark IV, a Meteor, 
a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu, 
a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati, a Mac truck,
a Mazda, a new Monza, or a moped, 
a Winnebago--Hell, a herd of Winnebago's we're giving 'em away,
or how about a McCulloch chainsaw, 
a Las Vegas wedding, 
a Mexican divorce, 
a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot, 
or a baby's arm holding an apple

Can I get an amen?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I can see clearly now

Part of the crack

A crack had been spreading across my windshield for a few months. I hadn't gotten it replaced before because I'd never stayed very long in any town large enough to have auto glass shops. But I'm in Yuma for a while. Plenty of places here to get the windshield fixed.

I had also avoided the repair because of the cost. Or what I imagined it would be—five or six hundred dollars. Maybe more. I was feeling rich, though, and ready to bite the bullet.

I did a search for auto glass places and found one with high customer ratings, including praises for their low prices compared to others in the area. So I went to Novus Auto Glass for an estimate.

"One ninety-seven sixty-three," said the lady.

"For the whole ball of wax?" I replied, incredulous.

"Well, two thirteen twenty-two, with tax."

"Cool." Very cool.

I was at the shop bright and early today. The painful, ugly part was watching them power chisel the old glass out. And there was a bit of thumping on a wiper that didn't want to come off.

Can't go anywhere like that

Farewell, old windshield

But everything went well, even if it did take longer than they expected. They had to wait for their tubes of windshield adhesive to warm up in the sun so it would be soft enough to come out of the tube. I guess they don't store the stuff inside. Doh.

There we go!

It has been a long time since I've looked through a virgin windshield. Not only are there no cracks and chips, but also no water marks, wiper streaks or bug guts. That's just not normal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Baggage claim

Back in February, someone left shoes at the Fortuna Pond dumpster. Today, someone left the case to carry them in.

It color coordinates with the dumpster, but not my decor

Monday, December 15, 2014

A return to the oasis

Fortuna Pond, near Yuma Arizona

One day the temperature is just fine. The next day it's two degrees cooler, but still tolerable. The third day the temperature has dropped another two degrees and suddenly it feels like it's freezing (even though it's in the 50s).

Four degrees isn't all that much, right? But sometimes it feels like a world of difference. After all, water is still liquid at 33 degrees, but, presto, one degree colder and it's a solid.

Some mornings I can get out of bed and the coolness is invigorating. Then the next morning, when it's a couple of degrees cooler, I need to break out the heater to keep my fingers from solidifying. That's when I move to Yuma, where it's three to five degrees warmer. And where there's a nice pond.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

War and peace

I don't remember how many trips I've made on US95 between Quartzsite and Yuma, but, each time, I think about stopping to take pictures of these two things. As you can see, I finally did. No need to be impulsive.

Huge erect phalluses at the entry to Yuma Proving Grounds

Our Lady of the Kale Field microchurch

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fashion week in Quartzsite

Follow me into the desert, my people
(Photo by Donna Cabral)

What does one do with an Ikea duvet cover one no longer needs? An option is to have one's sister modify it into a very comfy robe type thing. Then one would be all set for Burning Man. Of for just lounging around and confirming to one's friends that one is a little, um, different.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stay put

I made a trip to Blythe today. The excuse was that I needed some supplies and wanted to check out the new Smart & Final Extra. Really, though, I just got antsy.

The key to economical van dwelling is to not drive much. I didn’t do a very good job of that my first year on the road. I logged over 40,000 miles zigging and zagging all over the West. Even when I stayed in Slab City a month and Truckee three weeks, I would make unnecessary runs to town.

The actual traveling part of this traveling life satisfies something in me that staying in one place doesn’t. As they say, it’s about the journey—or the journeying. It’s not simply a need to see what’s around the next bend, and then the next one. Even making yet another run to Blythe or Yuma or wherever starts the natural happiness chemicals flowing. It’s like my molecules don’t care where they’re going as long as they’re being transported across the planet.

A friend commented the other day that I’m always taking off for somewhere. “I need to make up for decades of staying put,” I quipped. There’s probably a good chunk of truth in that.

I gotta go.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Burning the evidence

Most of the latest mail delivery ended up in the wastebasket. Then I had second thoughts. It contained personal and financial information. So I fished out the papers, took them to the nearest fire ring and, with water jug in hand, made an offering to the gods of information security.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Where are the sand worms?

The day I arrived at Slab City, I notified my mail forwarding service I wanted the month's pile sent general delivery to Niland, the closest post office. It hadn't arrived by the time I wanted to head to Quartzsite. Stay and wait, or go then return for it? Naturally, I chose the one that involved the most driving.

It wasn't all a silly 260-mile round trip slog. The Imperial Dunes are between here and there. I took some shots on the way back.

Pet sharing again

The Rolling Steel Tent must have a canine-friendly vibe. Friends' dogs keep dropping by to chill for a while.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chet-mas is coming

Chet got his tree today. He can scarcely wait to decorate it. He hopes Santa will bring him an itty-bitty car to ride in parades. His previous one got sucked up by the vacuum.

Now with 31% less disorder

I'd originally had other plans for the righthand compartment of the cabinet I built. Instead, it became storage for things like paper towels, toilet paper, cereal and spaghetti sauce. That meant unstacking things to get what I wanted, or restacking things after they tumbled from the motion of the van. And some things just don't stack well. Potato chips, for example.


"I need to add shelves," I told myself.

"But you don't have a saw," I replied.

Well, one of the advantages of meeting up with other members of the van dweller tribe is that someone (usually Mark) will have the necessary tools. And the inclination to help. What could have been days of fumbling became a painless two-hour job—with most of that time devoted to measuring (twice, of course) and painting.


Don't get me wrong. I'm not so self-serving and opportunistic that I get together with friends only when I need favors. Or someone else's cooking. It's a great side benefit, though. And I pay the kindness forward when I can. What do you need?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I went down to the crossroad

When you drive way out into the desert (King Valley in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, in this case) you can start to wonder what you're doing out there and whether the road leads to anything other than more of the same. The map of the NWR says it does. So you continue on the rattly dirt road, wondering if you missed the turn.

Then, finally, a sign. A sign that seems out of place here in the middle of nowhere. Not just the expected beat up, bullet dinged little sign on a stake a Jeep had run over. A nice new sign. A sign that says, "No, you're not lost, not out of touch with civilization. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is watching over you. Proceed with confidence, citizen."

As for the name. Is it pronounced Double Ought Junction? Or is it Oh-Oh, as in "Oh-oh, the wheel just came off?" Or, maybe Zero Zero, as in not just nothing—twice as much nothing. Or simply Oo. Unfortunately, there was no local person—or person of any sort—to provide the answer. Whatever the proper pronunciation, it was where I needed to turn. Left.

Ghost hunting

About ten miles up a fairly decent dirt road from US95, surrounded by the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and the Yuma Proving Grounds, is the Castle Dome Mine Museum and ghost town. Some of it was brought in from old mines in the region, some of it is a recreation. All of it got me wondering about the type of people who would dig holes here looking for wealth. Or even just a subsistence living. Hard people. Driven people. Not people who blogged.

One of the early van dwellers

The Rolling Steel Tent's grandfather, Castle Dome, Arizona

Probably very tasty, whatever it is

Yuma, Arizona

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Really big van

Friends Donna and Mark had been full-timing in a Ford van with a utility trailer in tow. You know a marriage is strong when it can survive quarters that close. But they knew they'd be happier with more room. They got this ultra cool, cruisetastic, vintage, GMC motor coach.

After making sure all the mechanical systems were in top condition, they've turned to reworking the interior to fit their needs.

Too bad they don't make these anymore. They're the one RV I truly like. Compact, efficient, well designed. And yellow! Take that, all you boxy clone RVs.

Can I be a peninsula?

No man is an island… 
—John Donne

I want to be left alone.
—Greta Garbo

The salad and spaghetti had been delicious. Now a few fellow vagabonds and I were sitting around, full, contented, getting philosophical. 

The topic: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since starting to live on the road?

My response: I learned I’m not as much of a recluse as I’d imagined.

I’ve self-identified as an introvert ever since I learned there was such a thing. (It sounded much better, more scientifically validating, than “shy.”) Being around people was exhausting, not energizing. I could happily spend hours or days alone. This book became my bible.

The full-time mobile life was a natural fit for me. The solo wanderer living apart from mainstream society. The totally independent man. A hermit on wheels. No roots, no anchors. Woot!

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
—Joni Mitchell

But being utterly, totally alone in the wilderness changes one’s perspective. “Normal” life is filled with intrusions and demands that make us introverts crave solitude. Take all that unwanted human interaction away, though, and one starts thinking it might be nice to have people to talk with, joke with, eat with. Not all the time, of course. That would be enervating. That would be something extroverts (ick) would do. But sometimes. Every few weeks. For a day or two. Maybe. Depending on my mood. And the weather. After all, I wouldn’t want the solitude enforcement squad to come take away my recluse credentials.

So, I guess my island would need occasional ferry service. Or a bridge. With guards.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Photos can lie

With the right composition, lighting and filters, the dreary laundromat in Niland, California, can almost look chic. If you don't look too closely. Yay, clean clothes and bedding.