Thursday, April 15, 2021

Part is parts

I’ve been getting a little antsy at Lou’s place, so I took a field trip to Texas. Barely. Anthony TX is smack on the state line, between El Paso and Las Cruces. 

There’s an automotive salvage yard there that, according to its online listings, has four Chevrolet Express vans and one GMC Savana. Hmmm, I wondered if they had a replacement for the handle on the side door. Or a passenger side visor. Or a headliner that was in better shape than mine. Or a steering wheel with less sun rot.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. The vans had been picked clean. What was left was damaged. 

And I learned you can tell almost immediately whether the vans had V8 or V6 engines. Only the V6s were still in place. Hot rodders love L-series V8s.

There was a restricted access area filled with fairly complete looking vehicles, including a Savana. I suspect these cars were waiting for the salvage company to snatch all the best parts. Like door handles, visors, headliners, steering wheels and V8s. Oh well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The bed drug

 I usually climb out of bed when the sun climbs over the horizon. Or, at least, that’s what I usually tell myself I’m going to do. Well, no, it’s what I rarely do. Because that early morning period is when I experience some of my most delicious sleep.

It’s one thing to sleep so deeply I’m unconscious, so deeply I cease to be aware I even exist. That’s great sleep. But I really love being just over the edge of sleep, awake just enough to know I’m in a comfortable bed, at just the right temperature, with no reason I need to get up, and then sinking down… down…… down………… into some weird dream……….. then drifting slowly up to semiconsciousness so I can be grateful I can stay in bed and sink down… down…… down………… 

Yes, I know, I’ve written about this before. That’s how much I love morning sleep.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Greetings from the family

It happens many times. Someone announces their plans to drive away from normal life and live in a vehicle—on purpose—and their families throw a fit. Usually out of concern for the nomad’s wellbeing, but often because they find the action somehow… offensive, a threat to the proper order of things, a rejection of all they hold dear. The announcement can create a familial rift, or widen one that’s already there.

I’m lucky. My family has been supportive. If there are any who feel otherwise they’ve kept it to themselves. We’re a polite clan. 

I’m the youngest sibling, the baby, and my path has always been at least a little different. So they’ve had decades to adjust to my oddness. “You sold your house so you can wander around in a van? (inert one-point-three seconds of thought) Yeah, that fits your profile.”

So, this post was inspired by the birthday greetings two of my sisters sent me. Linda wrote:

I hope all you roads are clear, your skies are wide, and you have all you need for the year ahead to enjoy good health, peace of mind, and many new adventures!

And Karen posted:

I saw this on my trike ride and thought of you.  Wishing you many more years of “life is good!”

Thank you, dear sisters.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The latest dirt

Lou rapped on the Rolling Steel Tent’s partially opened door. “I need help carrying a tub of dirt.”


Earlier he had acquired some strawberries and chives at the nursery in town. He was ready to put his greenhouse back in operation.

As we walked to the patio I thought about a broader, more universal meaning of, “I need help carrying a tub of dirt.”

We all have burdens. And sometimes those burdens don’t seem to amount to anything more than a pile of dirt—particularly to outside observers. But it’s our dirt, we need to carry it, and sometimes it’s more than we can handle alone.

There were actually two tubs of dirt. We carried the smaller one to the greenhouse first. Gotta warm up one’s muscles before tackling the bigger job. The second tub was, oof, much heavier.

“This was collected from my composting toilet.”

We were literally dealing with his shit. 

But it was shit that would be put to a good purpose. It’s shit that will enable growth. And strawberries.

"And you could have it all / My empire of dirt" — Trent Reznor

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Homage to a chair

It’s common while I’m in the van for Lou to sit outside in my chair. Sometimes he’ll just sit in it to take in the sun and scenery. And he likes to sit in it when he plays guitar.

“This is the most comfortable chair,” he proclaimed the other day. I agree.

Most nomads have some type of fabric-and-aluminum folding chair. My molded-plastic-and-steel chair is the oddball around the campfire. It’s as out of place as wingtips. 

But it’s comfortable. Its shape is anatomically correct. The perforated seat and back act like springs. 

“The front edge of your chair doesn’t dig into the back of my thighs like mine does,” Lou explained. I briefly had a camp chair that did that, plus the top of the backrest dug into my spine. What’s more, my chair doesn’t make me feel like I’m sitting in a hole.

My chair is also rugged. No fabric to be destroyed by sun rot, no seams to come unstitched. If the pivot points ever wear out, I can replace them with bolts. 

It’s heavier than nearly every other camp chair, but the weight and perforations mean it won’t blow away in desert winds. It did tip over once, but it didn’t end up a quarter mile away. Impaled on a cactus. With a bent strut.

So hurray for my chair! Long live my chair!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Original or not?

I imagined I was being original the first time I used the phrase, “I’m houseless, not homeless,” or, “I’m not homeless, just houseless.” 

I don’t remember hearing it anywhere else before I said it to Jessica Bruder when she was interviewing us nomads for her Haper’s article, “The End of Retirement,” which led to her book, Nomadland. She attributed the quip to me. And Frances McDormand repeated the line in the movie.

It’s a simple, pithy phrase that effectively explains the nomadic life. No wonder it has spread during the past half dozen years. Has it spread faster and wider than would be possible if it had originated with little old me? Is it a case of simultaneous independent invention? Or is it one of those two-people-each-tell-two-people-who-each-tell-two-people-and-so-on exponential propagation things?

My egotistical side wants to take all the credit. My impoverished side wants to own the rights and charge outrageous fees for its use. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

What I’ve missed along the way

I’ve been reading guidebooks and websites and watching videos about hiking in southern Utah. over and over I smack my head because I’ve been very near many of the featured places but had no clue at the time.

“All this was just up that side road? Doh!”

But life is like that. We pass by interesting, beautiful, enriching things because we don’t know they’re there, because we never paused to consider whether anything might be there, because we had more pressing things to do. 

They say ignorance is bliss, but learning you’ve been ignorant and that you’ve missed a lot of opportunities because of it isn’t blissful at all.

On family vacation trips my father was so focused on getting to the destination that we never stopped at cool things along the way. I’ve inherited a tiny bit of that destination fixation. But my lack of detours has mostly been due to the aforementioned ignorance. I would have stopped if I had known.

So I’ve vowed to myself to do more homework before heading off anywhere. And to slow down. Yes, I could get from A to B in a day and a half, but there’s seldom any reason to hurry. What if I took a week instead? Or a month? “Get out the books, Al. Get out the maps. Get out of the rut.” 

Sunday, March 28, 2021


The first load of merch is available at my Teespring store. Stickers, mugs, tees, tanks, hoodies. Everything is priced less than what Teespring suggests, but I still need to make some money.

I want to thank my former coworker and current friend, Brandon Scharr, for the designs. Here are some samples:

Here’s the link again to my store:

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Is Nomadland a downer?

Several viewers—including nomads—have complained that Nomadland is depressing. Perhaps they missed the themes of self-discovery, new beginnings, freedom, community, kindness and hope. 

But, yeah, there are dark aspects to the movie. Death, for example. Fran’s husband has died. Her town and the life she knew has died. The American Dream has died. Retirement has died. Her tire, van and dishes died. The retired man with the boat died. Deni’s elders had died. Linda May had contemplated suicide. Bob’s son had ended his life. Swankie dies.

These deaths hit us harder because they’re not stylized deaths in some melodrama or action movie. These are matter-of-fact, yeah-life’s-like-that, it’ll-happen-to-us-all-eventually deaths. Mundane deaths. These deaths are uncomfortably close to life as we experience it. These deaths are painfully familiar—especially for those of us in the latter half of life. We’ve lived long enough to lose family and friends, and our own death is a constant shadow.

I had made peace with my mortality long before my showdown with it during the summer of 2019. I think the acceptance of death starts with acceptance of our selves and our mistakes. The opportunities we let pass by, the opportunities we botched, the good we could’ve/should’ve done, the harm we did do, the forgiveness we haven’t granted, the gratitude or love we haven’t expressed… The regrets. 

Fern, Linda May, Swankie, Bob—and nearly every nomad I know—didn’t let regret, disappointment, rejection, hardship or the shadow of death paralyze them. They pushed onward. And that’s beautiful, not depressing.

Monday, March 22, 2021

It's all relative

It’s seasonal transition time again. It’s gradually warming here in southwest New Mexico, with the occasional hesitation or step back toward winter. It’s the time of year I shuffle my bedding and sleepwear trying to find each night’s Goldilocks level of just-rightness. 

A few nights ago I dreamed I was sweating. I woke up to discover… I was sweating. The heater was on. And I had used the extra blanket. 

Last night I turned in with just my down quilt. I woke up in the wee hours (the hours when you need to get up to wee) and realized I a tiny bit too cool for comfort. I could turn on the heater or grab the other blanket, but I didn’t want to get up and make the change. I was a little cool, but otherwise very comfortable, relaxed and contented.

So I tried a mind game. I imagined it was summer and the chill I was experiencing was glorious air conditioning. That worked for only a few seconds. 

What if I imagined it’s a brutal polar winter outside and appreciated it not being -40° in my bed? That worked a little better.

Then I accidentally discovered a good solution. I shifted my position and hit a much colder patch, one that hadn’t been warmed by my body. Yow! I shifted back to my original position. Ah, that’s better. Nice and warm-ish.

(I know the relationship between °F and °C are messed up on the stock art above. 0°C should align with 32°F, and so on.)

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The news is not good

So, is there a reason I’ve been hanging out at Lou’s place? And is there a reason I haven’t posted much? Um, yeah.

I have no great way to put this. Lou has advanced lung cancer. It probably metastasized from the renal cancer that resulted in the loss of a kidney a few years ago. 

The lung cancer is inoperable and chemotherapy would be lethal. His oncologist wants to try a medicine that costs tens of thousands of dollars per dose. Even with Medicaid, Medicare, and special discounts for low-income people, Lou would be left with copays far beyond his means. He’s exploring unconventional treatments, but even those require funds he just doesn’t have.

Lou is proudly self-sufficient and far more likely to offer aid than to ever seek it. But the reality of his financial situation has made him realize he needs help.

We could start a Go Fund Me drive, but we decided donors’ money would go farther without a middleman.

So you’re if inclined and able to give, send your contributions to Lou’s PayPal account:

It’s a sad situation. All of us who love Lou wish there were more we could do, like wave a magic wand and make everything good again. But at least we can relieve some of his financial distress.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The two Alans

My nomad friend Alan was camping nearby, so I drove out to spend some time. Good conversation, caught up on things, worked on our tans.