Thursday, October 19, 2017

Celebrity chat

Journalist and friend Jessica Bruder told me the story of how she became an honorary member of the vandweller community—a fauxmad.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

You have 36 seconds to get mellow

Short takes


The guy working the desk at the Fort Mason hostel had a confusing little speech habit. He said no the way others use okay or um-hum.

Me: A reservation for Christensen?

Him (looking at monitor): Christensen… No. First name?

Me (worried): Alan.

Him (nodding): No. One night?

Me: Yes.

Him (nodding more): No. Your ID please…

Me (shifting confusedly from one foot to the other): …?…

Him: You’re in Room 1, Bed 12. Here’s your pass, no.

Maybe he was being clairvoyant, knowing I’d abandon the hostel because of the snorer.


It’s expected the wind will howl in the desert in the winter, with van-shaking gusts up to fifty miles per hour. What’s not expected (at least by me) is wind like that slamming out of the north at the beach on an October evening.


When they’re harvesting garlic, the area around Gilroy CA smells like a good Italian restaurant.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New territory

I had never been out on the peninsula that's home to Lompoc and Vandenberg Air Force Base. I thought the coast there was all Air Force or private and off limits. But Santa Barbara County runs Jamala Beach out there, which offers camping, cabins, showers, a restaurant/store and free wifi, which I'm using to post this.

Monday, October 16, 2017


I first learned of Swankie at a van dweller Thanksgiving. I wouldn't really say we met. We were just in the same place at the same time and she had a memorable name. And some big plans. She was about three-quarters of the way through her goal to kayak in all 50 states. Fast forward a few years and she has completed that quest and is planning on hiking the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail. I caught up with her in Monterey where she played stealth camping guide to a mutual friend and I. And where I spotted her as she climbed out the driver window of her van and up onto the roof to wash her solar panel. That's the kind of woman she is.

Not huge luck

I had booked a bed in a San Francisco hostel so I could get a shower and have a no-hassles place to park for the night. And for a change of pace. The last time I stayed there was perfectly pleasant, considering I was sharing a room with strangers. Last night, not so much.

I was worried I would be the snoring guy who annoyed all the roommates. But this guy had me beat. I retreated to the van.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Huge luck

Vacant parking places aren't plentiful in San Francisco, so I was concerned about finding a spot somewhere near City Lights Books. It's between Chinatown, North Beach, and the old strip clubs. Tourist country. Not Fisherman's Wharf or the Golden Gate Bridge, but still a very busy place. Especially on weekends.

As I drove through town, from the freeway to the general area of the book store, I saw the occasional parking space in the more, um, scaly part of The City and no spaces the closer I got to my target.

When I'm in a situation like this, I head for someplace familiar, like the street where I used to work. I was a half block from my old office when (cue angelic chorus) someone pulled out of a nice big parking space. It was as if Pacific Avenue were saying, "Welcome, back, dude. Where have you been the past 23 years?"

Look at that excellent parallel parking job

As I wrote the other day, I have some great luck. Sometimes. I will take all of it that comes my way, thank you.

Good morning, Monterey, and so long

I've been hanging out on the Monterey Peninsula until Jessica Bruder's reading at San Francisco's famous City Lights Bookstore. The waiting is over and I'm heading north.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


You might recall I had been trying to figure out a way to hold the Rolling Steel Tent's rear door partly open in a way that the wind couldn't blow it open or closed. You might also recall that Forrest came up with a very simple solution. A block, a bungee cord, presto.

I was happy with that solution until I saw what Swankie uses. It's called the Ventlock.

It comes in several lengths, depending on how far open you want to hold your door or hatch. I'd like to show the video demo here, but they've disabled embedding so here's a link to it.

The hook screws out of the heavy steel rod. You slip the hook over the loop or post part of your door/hatch lock system (see samples below) and spin the rod to tighten.

When that's done, the rod won't come off the loop or post. Then you poke the looped end of the rod into your latch mechanism—the part that would ordinarily click over the loop/post on the door frame. Then you just reverse the process to remove the Ventlock. If you have powered remote locks, then your door/hatch is secure. But if you just have manual locks (like me), someone could reach in an unlock the door. So Ventlock isn't a security device in those instances.

Unfortunately, they're not cheap. But someone with some basic welding skills could make one. Or if you don't need or can't use the security aspect, then a clip at one end of a stick and a loop on the other will work just as well. I think I need to make a trip to the hardware store.

Ron returns

I have a difficult time approaching strangers. I have only a slightly less difficult time asking someone I just met for a favor. When I met Ron the other day I really wanted to do a video interview with him, but I chickened out and an opportunity was lost.

But yesterday I returned to the beach parking lot where we'd talked. Maybe he'd be there again. I was disappointed that he wasn't, but I went about doing other things. Then, about a half hour later, Ron pulled into the parking space next to me. This time I got up the nerve to ask, and he was flattered, not put off.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Park it

Sometimes urban stealthing (or even semi-stealthing with an officer's permission) gets tiring. I can be vigilant only so long before I just want to be 100% legal and carefree, with bathrooms and a shower, even if that means spending some bucks.

That's why I'm at the campground in Veterans Memorial Park, up on a hill in Monterey CA. It's pricey, but still less than state parks or commercial RV parks.

This morning there was a small group camped a couple of sites over. The men were standing and sitting around while a woman, still in her bathrobe, cooked breakfast. I imagine this evening the men will be doing the grilling. Because one must observe traditional gender roles. Pancakes: women's work. Meat: men's work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The gulls take a break from flying


Ron approached me in the parking lot at Seaside Beach to ask about my solar setup. Besides having been a van dweller for over a decade, he's also an accomplished artist and a charming guy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

House of sand and fog

First, the post I had planned to write.

Fog had rolled in by the time I returned to Moss Landing. "What perfect weather," I thought, "for a bowl of clam chowder." So I drove up to Phil's for an early dinner. "Some shrimp would be nice, too." It was an excellent meal.

Afterward, I settled into a different location than last night, farther down the road, away from the houses, just outside the state beach, overlooking the slough and dunes. It was and excellent spot.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

I had shut things down for the night and was in bed, in the dark, when a car pulled up behind the Rolling Steel Tent. I recognized the shape of Dodge Charger headlights and figured it was the law. The doors opened, illuminating two guys in uniform. Yup. So I quickly pulled on my pants, turned on the lights and opened the side door.

"I guess you want me to leave."

"Yes. We need to keep this area clear," said Sheriff's Deputy One, motioning to the state beach entry about a hundred yards away and the wide shoulder where I'd parked.

"What about up the road that way," I asked, pointing toward where I'd slept the night before.

Deputies One and Two looked at each other as if I'd asked a trick question, then came to an unspoken consensus. Deputy Two asked, "Um, you know where Lapis Road is?"

"I don't think so."

"You go back toward Marina, take the Del Monte exit..."

"Oh, the place where all the RVs are parked?"

"Yeah. You can go there. But you have to leave in the morning."

"You're just sleeping, right?" said Deputy One.

"Yes." The Deputies nodded.

A car drove by and pulled into the beach parking lot. The Deputies excused themselves.

They actually did me a favor. I'm on Lapis Road with the blessing of the Sheriff's Department. I don't need to keep a low profile. I'm not going to be rousted (again). I can totally relax. And that's excellent.


I collect stickers of the places I've been and usually find them in souvenir shops, like the ones at Cannery Row. I had avoided going there on the weekend because of the crowds. So I went Monday. It's good I didn't wait until today, because a cruise ship the size of a small city is in port.

Take me home, country road

After five days on the Monterey Peninsula, sleeping in residential areas, I wanted to head out to a less populous place. I didn't want to go very far because I still liked spending days by the bay. So instead of going inland, I went north about fifteen miles, to Moss Landing. Surrounded by vegetable fields, it's a small town dedicated to commercial fishing. And seafood restaurants. The residents are more blue collar than blue nose.

I had come to Moss Landing on Sunday to check out the horse beach, have some cioppino and scout the overnight parking situation. had mentioned Potrero Road, which runs along the edge of town, from Highway 1 to the beach. Fields on one side of the road, modest homes on the other, vehicles parked along the shoulder. It looked good.

And it was good. Quiet (once the highway traffic thinned out for the night), no hassles, no worries. And free, of course.

Monday, October 9, 2017

At Doc's lab

John Steinbeck based the character Doc on his friend Ed Ricketts. The sign on the pier next to Ed's lab calls this Doc's back yard, but since he was a marine biologist, he probably considered it his front yard.

Luck is not a plan

Saturday I posted how lucky I am. Today I added a donation button. (See it over there on the right?) Is that hypocrisy, or simply not pushing my luck?

I'm not a Blanche DuBois, always depending upon the kindness of strangers, but I'll accept help when offered and needed.

I've supported myself my entire adult life. That's a point of pride. But the fact is, Social Security and occasional video editing jobs don't leave me with the level of discretionary income I used to have. These days my safety net is about the size of a doily. Meanwhile, the van keeps getting older and things wear out. It'll need tires in a couple of years. Probably a starter battery. And right now I'm fairly certain it needs new motor mounts. And so on into the future, including replacing the Rolling Steel Tent some day.

I'm totally aware some of my readers need financial help, too. I'm not asking for their money. But if you're feeling a little flush, a little generous, and if you've already helped those who need it more than I do, I would be grateful.

I'm not broken down in the middle of nowhere. This isn't a big GoFundMe thing. It's a few bucks here, a few bucks there, just trying not to be hit as hard on that eventual rainy day.

The PayPal account this goes to is inconvenient for me to access, so that money will stay separate from my regular funds. The donations won't be spent on daily needs.

How can you trust me? Don't. Ask around, see if I'm sufficiently honest and trustworthy. See if I'm worth it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A fine place for morning coffee

Marina State Beach, Marina CA

Cowgirls (and boys) in the sand

I did a little exploring this morning, driving north from Monterey. Salinas River State Beach had been recommended to me, and it wasn't until I was there I remembered it allowed horses. Naturally, the situation reminded me of the Neil Young song.

Night light

A streetlight, a full-ish moon and the Point Penos lighthouse keep the monsters away while I sleep. Or while I go out in the night to take photos.

Hammocks by the sea

Saturday, October 7, 2017

As luck would have it

I was born a white male middle-class American. That’s a great head start* for which I can take no credit. It was luck. However, I do get minimal kudos for not messing that up. I could’ve done more with it, but at least I didn’t end up in prison or prematurely dead.

So here I am, sixty-five and a half years down the road, thinking, “Man, I really am lucky. I discovered a way to live simply. I have shelter. I have a source of sufficient income. I have health. I have a lot of freedom. My time is my own. Too many people have none of that.”

Right now I’m sitting in my home, overlooking a dramatic section of the Pacific Coast, hypnotized by the waves, entertained by sea birds. For free. I’ve been doing it for days. And there’s nothing I need to do, no responsibilities nagging at me. I could keep on doing this. Or I could go to the mountains, the desert, the forest, the grasslands… all the beautiful places.

Because I’m lucky. So lucky. The kind of luck everyone should have. Luckier than I deserve.

*I think it's wrong that American society is that way, with white males getting the golden pass and everyone else getting points deducted.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Good morning

The gull refused to align itself with the moon and pointy rock. It knew being slightly off center would create more design tension.

Finders keepers

I found a single-battery charger at one of the scenic overlooks along Monterey Bay. There's no way of knowing which of the day's many tourists lost it, so I'm giving it a new home.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pebble Beach without golf

This is my first video since getting Adobe Premiere Elements to work again. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Probably not good

Trust the locals

From my past limited experiences with the Monterey Peninsula, I had looked at the map when planning my journeys and thought, "That's all wealthy people. There's no place there a van dweller would be tolerated." But then Charlene said, "I was born and raised around here. I know the right places." And she was right.

She directed me to Point Pinos, in Pacific Grove, where there are day use parking areas all along the bay. It's beautiful. You can't park there after midnight (compared to sunset at most coastal spots) but there are places to park for the night just a couple of blocks away.

Last night I settled into a row of perpendicular parking spaces on the street next to the lighthouse. Across the street was a cemetery. No houses where people would peek out their windows and fret about a suspicious van. The residents of the cemetery would probably not be calling the cops.

Despite Charlene's assurances, I was unsure of the legality of being there. I sat in the driver seat for about an hour, watching traffic, trying to ascertain the vibe.

At about 9:00 a police cruiser drove past me, pulled into the lighthouse compound and lit the place up with his spotlights, checking to see if things were in order. I started rehearsing my possible probable conversation with the officer.

He drove right by me again as he crossed the street and made a circuit of the cemetery, chasing out someone who had pulled in there earlier. (Full moon... cemetery... Halloween in the air... kinky car sex...) "He'll deal with me when he's done there," I thought. But he just drove away. Well, okay then. I could relax. And I slept the sleep of the dead. (Small joke.)

So I'm back at the bay, watching the pelicans and the tide, being thankful for Charlene's local knowledge and grateful I can live free and travel to beautiful places like this.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mini convention

I joined fellow vandwellers LaVonne and Charlene in Pacific Grove, California. Not only do we each drive white Chevrolets, we are mentioned in Jessica Bruder's book Nomadland. One reason I'm here (other than it just being a great area) (and besides Lavonne and Charlene being great people) is that I'm on my way to see Jess at a reading in San Francisco on the 15th.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Reverse angle

I've posted many photos looking out at the ocean, so I figured it was past time to go out in the water and take a picture looking back, even if it meant risking getting my camera wet.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Whadda ya call that place with the sand and water and stuff?

Oh yeah, "beautiful."

Downtown on a Saturday night

The semi-secret spot where I semi-stealth camped on Friday night was full. Hmmm, where to go? On the way to various beaches and parks I had noticed downtown Ventura has a lot of street parking and a surprising lack parking restriction signs. There are occasional signs, in sensible places, declaring No Parking At Any Time, but otherwise... nothing. Going by the philosophy that everything which is not forbidden is allowed, I concluded the lack of signs meant I could park anywhere, at any time, for however long I liked.

And from the previous night's experience camped in a city cul-de-sac, it seemed like Ventura law enforcement chose not to worry about people sleeping in vehicles—if there were ordinances against it.

So, I found a short block downtown, with not much traffic, next to a vacant lot and office buildings, and settled in. A small RV arrived later. Then a pickup with a shell.

There was only a little traffic noise. Couples walked by. There were occasional cyclists and skateboarders. People out for the evening. Very low key. No feeling of danger. No visit from the police. I slept well—and didn't commit any criminal acts.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

How do they do that?

Imagine you got your food by repeatedly jabbing your mouth in the ground until... got something. Amazing.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Almost perfect

Google Maps pointed me to a laundromat. It turned out to be a good one. Clean, new machines with effective spin cycles, plenty of baskets and folding tables.

But that's not all.

The strip mall it was in also had a mom & pop donut shop, a mom & pop pizza joint, and a mom & pop Mexican restaurant. Your choice of places to eat while waiting for your washing. If only there had been a bagel bakery.

Per chance to dream

In 1958, North Carolina newspaper columnist, Harry Golden, observed that white people got upset when black people tried sitting with them—in schools, on buses, in restaurants, and so on—but were fine when black people were standing with them—in stores, in bank lines, etc. He proposed the tongue-in-cheek Vertical Negro Plan. Just have everyone stand. Problem solved.

We vehicle dwellers face a similar (though nowhere near as vile) problem. For the most part, folks who live in buildings have decided they can tolerate us sitting in cars, trucks, vans, campers and RVs, but they get all bent out of shape when we’re horizontal.

“They’re sleeping in there! Call the cops! Run them off!”

Of all the disgusting things. Sleeping.

It must not occur to them that sleeping people are totally harmless. They aren’t causing trouble or committing crimes. They’re out of it. Dead to the world. Okay, some are snoring very loudly, maybe muttering, or farting, but not robbing, raping or killing. If they must fear us, fear us while we’re awake, not when we’re unconscious.

Nonetheless, citizens have pressured local governments into banning sleeping in vehicles. Oh, you might be allowed to park your van there, as long as you’re not in it. Sleeping. That would be too revolting.

I have no Golden-style solution for our problem. Have everyone do everything while horizontal? Sleep vertically? Nah. And a rational solution has little hope because the fear of people sleeping in vehicles is irrational. Maybe I'll come up with something after a little nap.

All things in balance

Chevrolet and GMC light trucks have plastic hub caps held on by decorative fake nuts. Being plastic, they crack (which means they can't really tighten) and sometimes they fall off. I lost one. Forrest happened to find one somewhere that had fallen off someone else's truck. We put it on the Rolling Steel Tent, but it fell from its new home, too.

So, in the spirit of maximum wheel balancing, and not wanting to spend about $30 on a new set of hub caps, I removed the fake nut that was 180° from the missing one. Naturally, the little suckers fight you when you want them gone.

I wouldn't be surprised if the remaining six fake nuts thought, "Why should we have to take up the slack for the two who've gone AWOL? Screw this. (Or unscrew this.) We're out of here." That's when I'll feel like spending $30.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Follow the sun

The beach was all fogged in by lunch. I'm not that hard core of an ocean lover, so I went looking for a drier, warmer alternative inland. I didn't need to go far before the fog was gone and the temperature was about twenty-five degrees higher. And it's a lot greener than I would expect for this time of year. Nice.

A rocky morning

Stone stackers have been doing their thing on the beach. Their work isn't as elaborate as some, but I think the simplicity accentuates the tension in the works. (How's that for arty talk?) And the approaching fog removes background distractions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shimmy shimmy shake

The Rolling Steel Tent had developed a shimmy. Not only that up-and-down vibration that's usually the sign of an improperly balanced tire, but also, under certain conditions, a side-to-side shake that's the sign of, well, one or more other things. Improper alignment, improper caster adjustment, worn suspension parts, bent suspension parts... With over 200,000 miles on the clock, and much of that on rough roads the past four years, there was a chance I'd be spending some serious money getting the ol' steel tent rolling smoothly again.

But one of the rules of vehicle repair is to try free stuff before getting a mechanic involved. So I made sure the tires were correctly inflated. They were a little low, so I pumped them up to Chevy's recommended 50 PSI in the front, 80 PSI in the back. I didn't really notice a change.

Okay, the next free thing would be having all the tires rebalanced and rotated at the chain where I bought them—Big O. That solved about 95% of the problem. No more shake and only a hint of shimmy.

Another reason I went to Big O was that I thought the tires were out of round or maybe even starting to come apart. I didn't have Michelin-level funds when I needed tires, so I had to settle for their cheap house-brand tires, made in China. If it had turned out the tires were defective I could've waved my warranty at them. But that wasn't necessary. At least not yet.

If your vehicle is suffering from the shakes, here's a good article covering the possible reasons. May the causes be simple and the solutions free.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why I drive

I drove another 300+ miles today, about half of it through the greater Los Angeles area. Not because I'm nuts. (Well, not too nuts.) Because I wanted to be here. The ocean. The Pacific, to be specific. I would rather be in a crowd by the sea than alone in the mountains or desert. Solitude is grand, but the beach is better. Having millions of people just out of my peripheral vision is a fair price for all this. So is the campground fee.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A 360-mile slog

I downed some biscuits and gravy at the hotel's free breakfast, gassed up the Rolling Steel Tent and took off west on I-40. I turned south at Holbrook, and at Show Low I jumped on US 60 to Globe. The goal was Buckeye Hills Regional Park just west of the Phoenix metro area. It makes a nice overnight stop because, among other things, it's free.

I hadn't driven the leg from Show Low to Globe before. It's one of the routes down off the Mogollon Rim, which sort of divides northern Arizona from the southern, lower, hotter, part of the state. Along the way is dramatic Salt River Canyon. I hadn't known anything about it, but it brings out the Sunday crowds.

As with many long drives, the last part of this trip felt the longest. I've driven between Globe and Phoenix—and vice versa—several times, but the distance between landmarks seemed farther today. Aw man, I'm only at Apache Junction? Only in Mesa? Tempe? But I made it. I'm fine. I had a late lunch and napped and adjusted to the time zone change. Gee, it got dark early.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The olden days

Something caught my eye when I emptied my pocket change on the hotel table. Oh, look, an old "wheat" penny. You don't see many of those in the wild anymore. I turned it over to see the date. Cool, 1944.

It only looks like I made an irrational zig-zag

So, what am I doing in a nice room at the La Quinta Inn in Gallup, New Mexico? It's a long story of converging needs.

Ever since I hit the road in 2013 I've been been editing videos with Adobe's no-frills Premier Elements. It worked as it was supposed to up until a few months ago when it started crashing whenever I'd try to import video, making it useless. About the same time, Photoshop Elements started crashing whenever I'd try to save any photos except those that had been compressed for use on the Web.

Whenever those crashes occurred, a notice would come up explaining the problem, but since I do not speak the arcane language of programmers, the notices were no help. But I suspected it had something to do with either Apple's operating system or Adobe's software. Whereas Adobe has a carefully constructed barrier of inaccessibility, Apple has their Genius Bars. However, I wasn't near an Apple Store until Thursday.

Nicole Overholt was my knowledgeable and pleasant genius, and she was able to decipher the error messages. The Adobe programs couldn't locate a critical bit of their own code. The fact it started happening to both programs at the same time made me suspect Adobe had built time bombs into the software that would "encourage" users to upgrade to the latest versions. "Not upgrading for four years, huh? We'll show you."

But I would need to upgrade my also-several-generations-old Apple OS in order to be compatible with the current Adobe programs. You can see where this is going. Downloading gigabytes of software with my limited monthly mobile data allocation, during which my laptop would need to be plugged in, while camped in the forest where my solar panels don't get much light to charge the batteries which power my computer.

Meanwhile, the previous couple of days I had been feeling kind of, oh, dissatisfied with where I was in Northern New Mexico. It was beautiful. The weather was great. But something was gnawing at me. Then a friend posted a video of waves crashing on the California coast. I suddenly knew my problem was I wanted—needed—to be at the ocean. Right now, not in several weeks, as previously planned. I could do it, because wandering has no rules.

I looked at the map. How many hours? Where were places to camp along the way? Flagstaff would be a long slog, but Gallup would be easy. I could get a room there, plug in the laptop and use free wifi to download all that software. I was a little overdue on a shower, too.

Installing... installing... installing...

So, everything is downloaded and installed. The Photoshop problem is fixed. The Premier problem is not. X/*@!#^~x!!! Breathe deeply. Let it out. Think of the ocean. Mmmmmm, ocean...

UPDATE: Premier Elements has decided it wants to work after all. Maybe it just needed to go to the ocean, too.