Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The introverted curmudgeon wins

I left the Las Vegas area, trading Lake Mead for Lake Havasu. The plan was to take part in a gathering of nomads. Those with skills, tools and experience were going to work on the rigs of those with little or none of those. I was going to help. And shoot more episodes of Nomad Origin Stories.

But I lost the urge once I got there and saw the location (dirt and dust) and the number of people crammed into it. My inner recluse was going, "Aaaaaaaaaaaagh!" So I found a spot I could turn around without getting stuck in sand or running over bushes and went to Craggy Wash instead.

There's a place up a short, steep trail to a rise above the wash. No one comes up here. Plenty of room. Plenty of quiet. No need for social pleasantries.

Maybe I'll mix with the other nomads tomorrow. Or maybe I'll head down the road. Maybe there will be a new plan in the morning to go with the new month. Happy Halloween. Boo.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The downside of autumn

It’s that time of year again in the desert. It’s still warm enough to sleep without a blanket, but cool enough at night that my feet get cold. Despite several attempts over the past four years, I haven’t been able to train my feet to happily accept socks in bed. It’s like trying to leash train a cat. A feral one.

So I put the quilt just over my lower legs. Then, when I rouse to consciousness in the predawn hours, the van will have cooled down to the point the rest of my body thinks, “Hey, why should the feet get all that fluffy coziness? Gimme some of that!”

The trouble is, I wake up a couple of hours later all sweaty. Down does a really good job of trapping body heat.

I suppose I could spend some money and precious van space on a lighter weight blanket. (A small baby blanket, perhaps.) Or I could break out the wool socks once again and fight my feet into submission. Or I could move out of this in-between climate. Hmmmm, the overnight lows are about ten degrees lower near Zion National Park.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Local news

You might want to avoid this part of Henderson, Nevada, either because it's toxic or because the author of this flyer is there. Or both.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thanks again, YouTube

My favorite speed on the Rolling Steel Tent's heater/air conditioner fan stopped working—probably because it was on all the time. The next speed up is too noisy and the next speed down doesn't move enough air. I figured I'd need to take the dash apart and replace the switch or switch module. Everything's a module these days. So I searched YouTube to see how big of a job that would be.

What luck! There was a video about my exact problem on almost my exact van. It turns out it's just a matter of replacing the fan speed resistor via the engine compartment. Woo! Easy! And a new fan speed resistor is only about twenty bucks. Excellent. There's a trip to an auto parts store in my future.

Up she goes

When you go to Joshua Tree National Park, be sure to take the short walk into Hidden Valley. Not the campground, the day use area across the highway. It's really nice and somewhat cozy. And it's a popular spot for climbers. Like this one.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Same park, different campground

After a night at White Tank and two nights at Hidden Valley campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park, I'm giving Indian Cove a try. Hopping from one campground to another helps satisfy my urge to move without going very far.

Give them the bird

Sometimes, as a way to shut down for the night, I play a mahjong game on my computer. It’s a simple, no-brainer game—match the pairs until they’re all gone. I play until my vision or brain blurs.

Somewhere along the way I developed preferences for some pieces and hatred for others. I even started associating pieces with people I like or hate, often based on the pieces’ tendency to aid or block the completion of a puzzle. Or because some designs please me more than others.

The peacocks are my favorite, perhaps because they’re the only animals in the game. I try to save a pair for last. It’s a bit of a bummer when they’re in the upper levels and I have to get rid of them early. I feel a bit of a failure when other pieces are the last ones. But the game doesn’t care. It doesn’t award extra points for peacocks. It doesn’t award any points at all. Ever. So I’ve developed a vague scoring system: Woo, peacocks! Hurray for me!

Woo! All the peacocks left! Double hurray for me!

We all grew up in a world of external validation. Some of us merely sensed it was useful to seek the approval of others. Some of us had it pounded into us (metaphorically or literally) that the opinions of others were all that counted and that the personal markers of value, success or joy were worthless and stupid. While our individual need for external validation may decline over the years, other people’s belief in their right and duty to pass judgment seldom does.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when those folks criticize our choice to live in a vehicle. And we should take it as seriously as their judgment of our favorite food. Or our favorite mahjong pieces.

There’s no reason their joy must be your joy, or vice versa. Live according to your own standards and dreams. Do what pleases you. Your points are the only ones that matter. Be a peacock.

Too late in the year for that idea

After three days in Joshua Tree National Park I started thinking about where to go next. Someplace fairly close but not caught in the current heat wave. Hey, how about the San Bernardino Mountains? It wouldn't be hot up there. Let me check the forecast.

Oh. Freezing nights. No thank you.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Back to the desert, back to the unexpected

I had no actual plan beyond heading somewhere inland. I stopped for supplies in Indio where it was nasty hot and thought, "Okay, where am I really going?" I had checked the forecasts and it was still way too warm most places in the Southwest. "Up. I need to go to higher elevations where it's cooler. I know: Joshua Tree."

After settling into a nice spot at White Tank campground (where I had always struck out getting a site before), a large ball of pink fluffiness flashed through my peripheral vision and disappeared around one of the rock formations. Huh? I went around the rocks and saw a young woman carrying a mountain of diaphanous fabric and followed by a photographer and assistants. It was a fashion shoot. So I got my camera and took a picture of people taking pictures.

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. FreeCampsites.net 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.