i sold the van last week. today while riding the bus i saw the van parked in an autodetailing lot. it had been stripped of its stripes and was between two other white vans.
a few things conspired to result in the end of the van trip. my original plan, as i described on this blog, was to find a parking space in seattle and go from there. i never succeeded at that. seattle is a very busy city and its oversaturated in cars. that's my impression, anyway. parking spaces in any meaningful part of the city simply didnt exist. not to mention that seattle has an ordinance against vehicles over a certain length being parked overnight on the street.
i took a trip down to portland just to regroup. but i wound up staying. i reclaimed my old van spot, the one i utilized in april, which gave me access to internet, coffee, a gym (showers) and a downtown strip. it was all right. then one day i happened to look at the registration sticker on my windshield and i realized it was about to expire. within 3 weeks.
i wrote up my options. i could renew the registration online, but it would cost me $160. but the inspection sticker was also about to expire and that was a pisser. i would need a RI inspection sticker, i learned, and clearly i wasnt going to get that in portland.
my conclusion, after a lot of considering, was that it was time to let go of the van and start a new life here in portland. so i started that process. i found a room which i populated with the bed and decorations from the van. i sold or traded the rest off the van merchandise. cleaned the van. and put it up for sale.
it was the wrong season to sell it as a campervan. nobodys buying campervans in autumn. i tried to advertise it as a work van. with the hi-top and battery system, it could be an excellent work van. for whatever reason, i got no takers. nobody even emailed me with questions. i lowered the price and still nothing. maybe the leak scared people off... i dont know.
finally somebody called. he wanted it for a work van. i sold it to him that day. the van was worth more than the bastard paid but that's life. i had to let it go and move on.
so that's that. i wont deny that selling the van caused me some serious internal psychodrama. it had been such a loyal and trustworthy van. i hated giving it away to these strangers, especially since it was going to become a workhorse. but, i guess the van had some good adventures with me. it got to drive cross-country 3 times. it saw everything i saw and i saw some great stuff.
that's that. i'll leave this site up as a resource. thanks for reading and for all your positive feedback. take care,
if you've been checking this blog lately and finding no updates, i apologize. so here comes a long and colorful one for you.
long story short, i drove to seattle. the next day, 2 life-long buddies of mine, DS and MCM, flew in from the east coast for a backpacking adventure on the Olympic Peninsula and Canada.
the Olympic Peninsula (OP) is a humongous chunk of land west of Seattle. there's a little road that winds around it, but the most of the land is rain forest and mountains and is only accessible if you hike in. its a great and weird frontier which doesnt seem to belong in the continental United States. it's both a National Forest and a National Park. our plan was to hit the National Park for a few days, then head north and do a loop through Canada.
on the first day we loaded up our packs. we did a poor job of this. it was strange. i've had the same external frame-pack for over 10 years. i know its a bit dated as far as outdoor gear goes (it belonged to my older brother first), but in that time i never had any problems with it, either from discomfort or via organizing it. this trip, though, it was a constant nuisance. it hurt my back and shoulders, it felt big and unwieldy, i couldnt get stuff to stay on it firmly, and the big compartment seemed less than adequate. DS and MCM also had some packing difficulties.
in retrospect, we all brought far too much rain gear. since this is the pacific northwest and since we were aiming for the rain forest, we anticipated rain. but August is the dry season. it only rained once all week, and that was just a spattering during the night. the rest of the time was hot and dry and sunny.
we loaded up our needlessly heavy packs and took the bus to downtown seattle, where we checked in at the Green Tortoise Hostel. it was my 26th birthday so we did a bar crawl and got appropriately hammered (or inappropriately, considering we had a long backpacking trek ahead of us). there was some mixing of beer and whiskey, which is never wise, and when we returned to the hostel around 1 AM, my head was spinning too much to lay down. i spent an hour pacing around the corridors of the hostel waiting for my equillibrium to come back. there were other night owls up, kids from around the world, roaming like i was. i hate being that drunk. there's no joy or grace to it.
i got to bed at 2 AM. my alarm went off at 5:30 AM and we showered and packed and marched off into pre-dawn Seattle for the ferry terminal, where we eventually caught a ferry to Bainbridge Island (below).
what can i say about Seattle? where to begin? its an astoundingly beautiful city, especially on the waterfront. and its not just beautiful but its got an edge to it - its got edge and grit and style and soul. there's a free-spirit feeling to the place. all the good music and literature and coffee that's come out of there over the past 200 years is alive in the streets, its alive in the people. you look one way and see the ocean, or you look elsewhere and see Mt. Rainier's snowcapped peak in the distance. what a place.
actually getting to the rain forest is kind of a hop, skip, and a jump. i'm not going to waste your time with all the details of how we finally got out there. but we did. the first thing we stopped off at was Lake Crescent (above). Lake Crescent is off Rt 101 and west of Port Angeles, on the northern side of the peninsula. its a great lake with water like you've never seen before. the above picture doesnt do it justice. you can see straight down to the bottom. from a distance its a perfect blue-green. its looks clean enough to drink. we stopped there and dipped our feet and continued on.
The above picture is of Rialto Beach, which is in a reservation on the western shores of the Peninsula. the whole beach is strewn with huge sun-bleached logs. these are some of the biggest downed trees you'll ever see, and they're stacked helter-skelter and many trees deep, thrown there during violent storms. you can climb all over them. we went for a quick swim at Rialto just to get refreshed (it was very cold and the water is dangerous because of all the trees floating in it!).
that first day, since it was getting late, we car-camped at Mora Beach, a state park near Rialto Beach. this was a fine state park, on par with the excellent state parks I encountered up the Oregon coast. the fire ban in effect throughout the rest of the peninsula was not in effect here and we were instructed by the ranger to collect driftwood to burn.
the next day, we parked at the Hoh Rain Forest visitor center and backpacked into the rain forest. the photograph at the very top of this post is from that area of rain forest. we pulled off the trail at the Happy Four campground, a small site between the trail and the Hoh River. it was one of the most beautiful backcountry sites I've ever seen. it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime camping spot. we pitched our tents in the sand on an embankment over the river. there was a fire ban in this area, so we had to rely on our headlights and candle latern once the sun set, but it was OK.
the only problem with Happy Four was the bear situation. bears, raccoons, and other scavengers are active in the Hoh Rain Forest, and they want your smellables (food, toiletries, etc). you've got to either hang your belongings from a very high tree to make them out of reach or rent an airtight bear canister from the rangers. before we left on the trip, we discussed our route with a ranger, and he assured us that Happy Four would have a built-in bear wire (a metal cable strung tree to tree, with wires hanging off it for you to string up your smellables). so we declined renting a bear can and didn't even pack a length of rope.
you should never go into the woods without rope. it's one of those essentials like a knife or first-aid kit, stuff you bring whether you anticipate a need for it or not. this was our mistake.
so we were at Happy Four, the sun was setting, and I set out to find this bear wire. it's always wise to find the bear wire before dark. you dont want to be out there at 10 PM with your flashlight shining the trees and tripping over branches searching for it. i walked around the whole campground twice, and even went out to the trail, and couldnt find it. i told MCM and DS that i couldnt find it, so they went out and searched, and also couldn't find it.
so we had no bear wire, no bear can, no rope, and a whole lot of smellables. it was time to improvise. ultimately, we filled a stuff-sac with our smellables, attached it to the end of a huge branch, then raised up this branch and looped the stuff-sac onto a tree. this took about 30 minutes and involved a lot of grunting and cursing. it even involved, at one point, me crawling onto DS's shoulders to try to reach up and guide the bag into the branch. but we did it and in the morning we found our smellables were unmolested.
ABOVE: DS cooking our pasta dinner on a backpacking stove at Happy Four. the mosquitoes were a nuisance, hence the bug netting over his face.
the whole rain forest adventure lasted 4 days. it was a great success. i endorse the OP as a hiking and travel destination. one note on weather, though. as i said earlier, this is the dry season. that made for beautiful, dry days - perfect for camping. but as far as the ecosystem was concerned, the flora and fauna were very stressed. i had visited the OP once before, in March, when it was raining all the time, and the colors were far more vibrant. in March the OP seemed to be exploding with color and life. in August, it was spectacular, but didn't have the same vibrancy because of how dry it was.
we left the rain forest and took a ferry across the Strait of Juan De Fuca to reach Victoria in British Columbia. at the Canadian Customs Office, the 3 of us were singled-out to be searched for drugs. this was no surprise as we were three dirtbag backpacker young people. i expected as much and didn't necessarily blame them for choosing us. we were led into a backroom of the Customs office and then split up among 3 different agents. my agent was very harsh. he had a "bad cop" vibe going as far as how he talked to me. i wasn't nervous because i didnt have any drugs or contraband or subterfuge, but he still kind of scared the shit out of me. its hard to stay relaxed when a Customs agent is waving a finger in your face and accusing you of being a druggie. (the good news is that the whole incident will always be a funny story to tell people).
they searched us and found nothing since we had nothing and then released us into Victoria. we took a taxi up the island to reach Swartz Bay where we caught another ferry into the gulf islands. this ferry took us to Mayne Island, where we had a reservation at an eco-campground on Seal Beach.
Seal Beach was a real delight. the owner has built a beautiful, eco-friendly campground around his gorgeous log cabin house. you camp on a very tranquil harbor (above). there is an awesome treehouse shower. they recycle and compost everything. the water was a bit too cold for swimming, but the shower was very refreshing. a fireban was in effect on Mayne Island, so again we relied on our small light devices once the sun set. we cooked rice and beans and drank a bottle of red wine (beer is always preferred but when you can't keep your booze cold and dont want the harshness of liquor you go with red wine).
the next day we woke at 5:30 AM, packed our gear, and took a ferry from Mayne Island to Tswassen Bay. from there we rode public transportation into Vancouver. we didnt have Canadian tokens but the bus drivers were very forgiving and let us ride anyway.
we had 3 beds lined up at the Same Sun Backpacker's Hostel in downtown Vancouver. we checked in there, dropped off our gear, then left on foot to explore the city. it was early (around 11 AM) so we had plenty of hours for tourism.
i'll admit we had very high expectations for Vancouver. i always imagined it completed the trilogy of awesome northwestern cities which includes Portland and Seattle. i was expecting an alternative vibe, great architecture, lots of trees, and a feeling of mystique. however, from what we saw, it really had none of those things. it was a city of concrete, litter, drab architecture, rampant homelessness, and little green space. even the famed Stanley Park was kind of dirty and depressing.
in Vancouver's defense, they are in the middle of a drought, so that could explain the drab appearance of their greenery. they are also feverishly prepping for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and so constructions was happening all over the place. and of course, 24 hours isn't really enough time to intimately get to know a city.
as the sun set, we initiated another bar crawl, but 1-2 beers in, an undercurrent of exhaustion i'd been feeling all day blossomed into a full-blown case of I-feel-like-shit. so while DS and MCM continued to party i returned to the hostel and was passed out in my bunk by 8:30 PM. i took the below picture from the window of my room in the hostel when i woke up later to pee and saw the beautiful colors on the street below.
out of Vancouver we rode a Greyhound. ironically, passing through US Customs at the Washington border was no-sweat. they didn't pull us aside or interrogate us or anything. we were waved through with the rest of the bus passengers.
we enjoyed one more night on the town in Seattle. it was Sunday, so many bars closed early, but we did find some cheap beer and greasy food at El Malecon, a fun little cantina/sports bar in downtown Seattle. then we retired and the next day we went our seperate ways.
all in all, it was an awesome trip, and we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish. thanks, fate!
as for my future -- I'm staying on in Seattle in the van. i'll try to do a post about my explorations of Seattle soon. Thanks for reading!
shortly after my last post the summer took some unexpected twists and turns. due to a family emergency, we had to fly from Phoenix to RI.
the day before we flew out of Phoenix, we needed some long-term internet access so we could buy airplane tickets online. that, plus the fact that we needed to clean the van and shower before flying out, made us decide to get a motel room. at that point were driving down the eastern edge of Utah. there were many motels along the way, many tiny towns whose economy seemed to orbit the outdoor industry. but the motels were usually too expensive.
finally in Blanding we found a little motel that was 30 bucks a night plus wifi. the lady at the desk complained that it was a bad summer for the motels in town. she claimed that people were renting RVs rather than renting motel rooms. she seemed to have a point; i saw more Cruise America rental RVs in Utah than anywhere else.
the room was just what you'd expect at $30 a night. of course, having been sweating it out in the van for a week or two it felt luxurious. TV! hot showers! a big bed! electricity! we walked up to the A&W and bought fast food then ate it in the room and began the depressing process of trying to find cheap airplane tickets. it seems like the airplane companies spike or drop the prices based on the time of day when people are most likely to buy tickets. we ended up buying tickets at some ungodly AM hour. then we high-tailed it to Phoenix.
Phoenix was burning up. night fell and it was still burning up. we slept in the van. it was a long strange feverish night. we slept, but it was a weird sleep where you're sweating profusely and kind of delirious. i kept waking up and shining the flashlight on the thermometer. it hovered between 95 and 100 in the van all night. dawn came and it thumped up to 100 and stayed there. we got up at 6. from the rays of sun coming thru the windows it felt like noon.
the we realized we'd left a wallet at the motel...
anyway, we got to RI, where it was surprisingly cool weather-wise, and we did our thing there. after 2 weeks, things were resolved, and we flew back to phoenix. i was relieved to find the campervan had survived its lonely stay in the economy lot, which cost $8/day. the interior of the van had that "toasted leather" smell which i associate with the way my great grandparents' car used to smell; they were Tucson residents.
now we're in California. readers of this blog may recall how in April I chickened out of a tour of LA. well, this time I went in! the driving was not disastrous but was indeed high-octane. within 90 miles of the city there was a perceptible change in the road vibe: people started driving faster and more aggressively, the road expanded from 2 lanes into 4 or 5, and the traffic thickened. i had to keep my wits about me. once we penetrated the city there were some crap drivers who cut me off and forced me to slam on the brakes (when you do that in a campervan you hear all your worldly possessions go crashing about behind you). but we made it to a friend's house in west LA where there was overnight parking.
in addition to visiting friends in LA, we visited the famous Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City (west LA). The museum is a deliberate blend of fact and fiction. Some of the fiction is blatant fantasy, such as an exhibit about a tropical bat which can fly through solid matter, and some is a more subtle distortion of history which leaves you wondering what exactly is real and what is not. its really genius --- imaginative, hilarious, weirdly fascinating. and affordable, at a suggested $5 donation for entry. check it out next time you're in LA!
we continued up the coast. the California coast is notoriously unfriendly toward vandwelling. the walmarts all forbid it (that's the word on the street, at least). we aimed for the town of Paso Rubles, where there was a movie theater showing "District 9" which we were itching to see. we got there and saw the movie then we decided to take a risk and just camp in the van on the street. it was a major street but in a quiet part and there were other cars parked around us which suggested you were allowed to leave vehicles out overnight.
me being me, i went for a walk to try to find a police station or cop just to get an informal OK. i figured if i was honest and told the cop that we just wanted to get some shuteye and we'd be gone by morning, he wouldn't mind. no subterfuge, you know? well, i couldnt find a cop, and since it was saturday night, the police station desk was closed. so we went to the movie then got out around 11:30 and discretly entered in the van and went to bed.
around midnight somebody pulled up behind the van and sat there with the car idling. there was the sound of a dog barking. the headlights were very bright. we lay there waiting, trying not to make any sounds or movement. this went on and on --- just some dude sitting behind us with his headlights blaring through the back windows (the back windows have translucent coverings so you can't see out or in, but light gets through). then we heard the guy get out saying, "... Shine both windows with the light..." then we heard them walking over. clearly, they were police.
so i jumped out of bed and pulled on my pants. at that point the officers had made their way to the front of the van and they were shining their superpowered maglights into the windows. and weirdly, one officer was narrating all this loudly, "... now, shine these windows, and look for any activity there. now move onto the front..."
it was strange, but i was a nervous wreck, and it happened very fast, so i didnt have much time to reflect on what was happening. i went up to one of the slider windows. "Hello, officer?" I called in a friendly tone. There was a police officer at the driver's side window, shining his light in, and another person, not in a uniform. They turned, startled. "Oh, sorry," the police officer said, "We were using your vehicle for practice. Are we cool?"
"Yes," I said.
Then they turned and walked back to their cruiser and sped off.
"What the HELL was that?" Jora asked.
My hands were shaking, I felt like puking. You'd think I actually had something to hide. "I don't know," I said, "I guess they're cool with us being here."
"Well, I DON'T fucking know!"
Once the adrenaline had drained out of us we sat there trying to make sense of what had happened. Ultimately, we decided to take the officer at his word - that he was just giving a lesson to a trainee - and we stayed.
nobody bothered us. morning came and we drove out of there. such is van-dwelling, i guess...
Oh, before I end this, here's my 2 cents on "District 9", the new alien sci-fi movie which everybody is really excited about. The idea is that harmless aliens crash-land in Johannesburg and become the victims of human cruelty, prejudice, bureacracy, and greed. that's a great concept, with huge potential for all sorts of commentary.
but "District 9" blows it. it's unrelentingly bleak and sadistic, with virtually no redemption at the end (there is an attempt at a redemption story, but it rings very, very false). the social commentary is aggressive, but misdirected. and sure, there's a big man vs man / man vs alien shoot-out in the end, and if you like that sort of thing, you may be titillated. but don't buy into all the hype about this movie being a more "cerebral" sci-fi tale. it's not.
when i last left off, i was seeking out swimming holes in the southeast. that trip was actually a slow descent toward Cullowhee, NC where j. and i had enrolled in a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course with Landmark Learning.
the course lasted 9 days. the theory behind WFR certification is that it prepares you for medical emergencies in the back-country when an ambulance/hospital/MD is an hour or more away. the skills are helpful, but not intended for, medical emergencies in urban environments. it was super interesting. despite being a very common certification and low-level (as far as complexity) i found it to be very in-depth. they really taught us some useful stuff.
we lived in the van at the Landmark Learning facility out in the NC mountains. the weather was fine; very cool and often rainy. as students we had 24-hour access to a student lounge which had wifi, a kitchen, bathrooms, and hot showers. if you're interested in Wilderness Medicine (WFR, Wilderness EMT, Wilderness Life Guard, etc) I definitely recommend checking out Landmark Learning. the teachers are top-notch. they really have their shit together (and at a much more affordable tuiton cost than other wilderness medicine schools).
as soon as we passed the final exam and packed up, we drove north to Knoxville. it was miserably hot and swampy there. we connected with the interstate and began the long westward trek for Arizona. the pictures ABOVE and BELOW this paragraph are of rest-stops we stayed at. the rest-stops along I-70 in the midwest can be really charming. look at that little pavilion we fixed our dinner at. it had a covered eating area, a charcoal stove, and a water pump. there was a dump station around the corner, and free WIFI in the air. and all for free. thats a better deal than many state/national campgrounds.
ive lost track of the whole sequence of days. but we inched through the midwest. we slept at many rest-stops, and some walmarts; we went to the movies. we stopped at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, and also did some birdwatching. then we hit Colorado and the Rockies. neither of us had seen the Rockies before. what can i say? theyre big and beautiful, very inspiring. unfortunately the towns along I-70 were vomitously touristy, and geared to the winter sports crowd (which i dont relate to).
we stopped off at Colorado National Monument for some camping/hiking. CNM is on the western edge of Colorado, not far from the Utah border. the picture ABOVE is me hiking in one of the canyons. it was very hot. and very beautiful. there were many lizards, and we saw a snake, too.
because of the heat, we set up my tent and slept in it rather than the van. it was a relief not to be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder on the van mattress. and i enjoyed seeing the stars through the screen-top of the tent. the picture ABOVE is a long exposure of the Grand Junction cityscape as seen from our campsite.
we got out of Blacksburg and renewed the search for swimming holes. this led us to a little nature area in southwestern Virginia called Dismal Falls. it had a waterfall/swimming hole (pictured ABOVE) and some hiking and a campground (below). there were always folks at the swimming hole. dogs, too. it seemed like a popular place.
the campground was about a mile walk from the swimming hole and at the end of a gravel road. there were 2 people camped when we arrived but they cleared out and for the next 2 nights we were alone. it was free, too; a sign said it would cost $5/night but nobody came to collect it and there wasn't an iron ranger to leave cash in. there was a cool water pump at the campground i forgot to photograph. it had the traditional pump fixture but then sticking out of it was a water fountain.
we got out of there and spent a night at a walmart in some random commercial plaza. we ran into some other van-dwellers who were going in the opposite direction, toward Rhode Island. then we crossed into North Carolina and drove into (or rather up into) Stone Mountain State Park. the park was substantial. it had dozens of electric and non-electric sites and it was all beautifully groomed. there were hot showers too (free, too - no coin-op crap). we spent 2 nights on Stone Mountain and went on 2 of the hikes available in the 19 miles of trails.
pictured ABOVE is Stone Mountain's famous granite (?) dome. this giant bald thing is really awe-inspiring to see. its kind of freakish. you can see all the streaks and pits from rain run-off. im not sure what created it and why more mountains dont look this way.
on the hike we encountered this bug. he had eyes on back of his head. we urged him to move off the stairwell, fearing he'd get crushed. when prodded with a pine needle he retracted all his legs and played dead, or something like it. it was neat. we moved him into the leaves. who knows, maybe he wanted to get stepped on...
this picture ABOVE is of the Stone Mountain waterfall. there were numerous scary-looking signs warning people not to swim on or walk anywhere near it. you can see why.
upon entering Virginia out of DC we drove southwest in order to hit Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. its a pretty drive that curls and bends and goes up and down across a strip of mountainous midsouth forest. the picture BELOW is from one of the many scenic views along the drive. we stopped there and hiked in the woods for a few hours before getting back on the road.
the big highlight of the drive was seeing a black bear run across the road in front of us. it wasnt a very big black bear but it was still a bear and seeing one is always kind of magical. it climbed the embankment then stopped and looked back at us over its shoulder with those weird dark thinking eyes all bears have.
we visited friends in Charlottesville and spent a night there then continued south along the Virginia and West Virginia border in search of swimming holes. we found one at Blowing Springs National Recreation area (pictured BELOW).
the water was cool, not frigid. we swam. the whole floor of the swimming hole and all the underwater rocks were covered in tiny watersnails. i like snails and kept a few as pets briefly while living in RI and it hurt my heart to feel them popping underneath my bare feet. eventually i found a clear place to stand. i was paranoid about snapping turtles even though i know they prefer murkier water. fortunately there were no close encounters except for some little fish floating up to me and nibbling on my calves.
Blowing Springs Recreation Area is named after some kind of warm-air cave across the road from the campground. the water coming out of this cave is always 53 degrees no matter the time of year. i walked across the road and felt the water; it was indeed cold. the campground was simple but well-manicured (see pic BELOW). it was $10/night and had well-water and toilets. there were other RVs and tent-campers. around mid-day an entourage arrived that looked like something out of Slab City. they had a van, a tow trailer, a car, and a converted schoolbus (!), and they set up a wall tent, a dome tent, a dining tent, a picnic table, and many chairs, and dumped out a big pile of firewood too. oddly i only ever saw 2-3 people at the site at a time...
being in the mountains as we were it was a little cooler at night. the fireflies were out and up in the trees as high as 30 or 40 feet and it looked like a big blinking wall towering over us.
we spent 2 nights at Blowing Springs. at the end of the 2nd day we both started to get a little antsy. there really wasnt much to do other than swim or lounge around the van. so today we set out early (6 am) with it in mind to reach another swimming hole / campground further south along the virginia / west virginia border.
what ensued was a weirdly "unfortunate" driving experience (to quote Jora). it looked on the map like it would take 2 or 2.5 hours at most. i was anxious to get there early and snag a site since it was a saturday. so we just woke up and took off without coffee or breakfast or anything. 1 hour passed, then 2, then 3... and according to the map we still had a trek ahead of us. what the hell? why was it taking so long? the road was very twisty and turny and the line on the map didnt do justice to all these squiggles. driving squiggly roads in the van is very stressful for me. youre constantly fighting momentum. on the downhills you fight with the brakes, on uphills the engine strains.
at 4 hours we were both unraveled mentally. the lack of caffeine, combined with the unprecedented driving time, did us in. it was one of those situations where if i'd known it was gonna be 4 or 5 hours, i would have been OK; but i didnt... so we called it quits and stopped in Blacksburg for the day. we'll try for that swimming hole tomorrow.
thanks for the positive feedback, and thanks for reading.
After my last entry, I spent time in RI and NJ with friends/family. This included a few trips to NYC to visit friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn (by train of course; I'd never involve the van in that). It was unusually rainy and cool in the northeast. NJ in particular seemed to be drowning in its own rain.
Not much went on with van-dwelling aside from telling people stories of my year on the road. I'm not much of an oral storyteller and I had to mentally plan which story to tell to who and how to tell it. The story I found myself telling most often was of Slab City and all its weirdness. But most of the trip involved long bouts of quiet solitude and contemplation which doesn't make for good stories.
I remembered how a year ago while preparing for the trip I kept imagining myself coming back to these places post-vantrip and seeing these people. I imagined I'd be a different man: older, wiser, and so on. I wouldn't feel angsty or amateurish and maybe I'd have a scar or two as well as a handful of crazy stories. I guess I am some of those qualities and did get some scars and stories but it doesn't seem that way. I feel like the same guy except I'm poorer and the whole "solo road trip" thing is crossed off my list of "shit to do before i die". The feelings of angst (or whatever you want to call it... hunger, uncertainty, anxiety, etc) persist and I don't really know what I want to do with my life. In "Into the Wild", Jon Krakeur talks eloquently about that sensation... he describes quitting his job to undertake a severely-difficult solo climb, barely surviving the climb, then coming back and returning to the same job and the same town and so on and so forth, with all his old problems still haunting him.
Now I'm on the road again, this time with co-pilot Jora Johnson, for another month or two of road-tripping.
First off, we visited a friend in Western Philadelphia. The friend lived in an apartment in a dilapidated old house that had no electricity but for that which the rooftop solar panels provided. This amounted to enough power for a few lights and a radio player. Water came from the city. There was a kind of camping, squatting, and city-living fusion going on there. Space was limited so I spent the night in the van alone. People walked by the van all night and some cats got into a fight underneath it (or at least it sounded that close). It's always a little unnerving van-dwelling in a new city.
The next day we walked around Philadelphia a little. I always think of Philly as being bleak, gray, and balmy, and it was all 3 of those things today. It seems like a harsh metropolis as big and complicated as NY or LA but which never achieves the lunatic-joy-chaos of those cities. I think of M. Night Shamalayan's horror movies set in Philly, or of Bukowski's poems about bar fights in Philly, or of the Philadelphia Eagles, a team known for being kind of brutal on the field. This is just my impression as a once-in-awhile visitor to the city. I know its not such a bleak place...
After getting lunch we drove to Washington DC. Jora had her first experience driving the van and did well, even in the hellish traffic surrounding the city. It was odd being a passenger. In DC we met with another friend and are spending the night in his apartment. The van is sleeping on the street below in an unmetered area.
I left Portland on Saturday morning around 8 am. I had packed the van up the night before so I just had to get gasoline.
If you've been reading this blog then you know I'm a baby when it comes to long-distance driving. I don't like to drive and I hate driving for more than an hour. Much of this year involved inching across the country hour by hour.
But for this east-bound trek I wanted simply to get it over with. I decided I'd push 'the limit' of my tolerance and see just how long I could stand it.
The result: On Saturday, I drove 12 hours. Sunday, another 12. Monday, 10. Tuesday, 10. And Wednesday, 8.
Those totals include 4-5 stops per day at a rest area to jump out, go to the bathroom, splash some water on my face, buy a coffee, and jump back in the van. On the first 3 days I stopped at 12 hours because that was around when it started to get dark out and my night-vision is poor.
The pictures on this entry show how quaint and often beautiful the rest areas along Route 84 and Route 80 are. The first picture of the cows is in Idaho. The one above, of me on the ledge, is the southern Idaho/Wyoming border.
To keep my mind occupied while driving, I listened to Podcasts on my iPod. I'd never bothered with Podcasts before; but they're really cool! Now I know why everybody else was always raving about them. The most enjoyable listening was from the "Well Told Tales" channel, which offers short stories of the sci-fi, horror, or hard-boiled variety, read aloud by professional actors, sometimes with sound effects.
Above is a truck stop I stayed at in Ohio. By the time I pulled in each night I was usually pretty fried. I'd have just enough energy left to eat a sandwich, have a drink, put on the radio, set my alarm, and pass out.
Above: self-portrait called "rest stop blues".
The hardest segment was crossing Pennsylvania on the last day. It took me nearly 7 hours. It was mountainous, rainy, and I was surrounded by trucks the whole way. Then when I crossed the Delaware River and hit New Jersey, I saw an epic traffic jam on I-80 Westbound. It was 3-4 lanes deep and at least 7 miles long. It was, I'm assuming, all the people who work in NJ/NY but live in Penn trying to get home.
Above: My cat Summit.
I'll be in NJ for a few days, then RI, then NJ again, then I'm heading down to North Carolina (and I'll post entries here about it all).
There was a very strange moment once I got into NJ and got to my mom's house. I went into the little guest room where I usually stay when visiting. It was around dusk, raining, and cold out, and I could see the van parked in the driveway, and it brought me back to when I was here in October. That was before I'd done any van-dwelling but was about to embark on the adventure. I was all anxious about shit that didn't turn out to be important at all. I had no idea what was to come. I remember sitting in that room reading about camping in the Pine Barrens. There was a tremendous feeling of uncertainty; I was on the precipice.
Now it's essentially over. Interestingly, when I think of the whole trip and try to conjure one essential image, I think back to those first few nights on the road, in the Pine Barrens of NJ, in November. Cooking the first meal. Sitting bundled-up and half-frozen in the van listening to country radio and writing in my journal. Hiking in Wharton State Forest. Maybe those days made such an impression on me because I was so electrified by the trip finally starting after so many delays and doubts.
I was thinking today how funny it feels to be living in a house all of a sudden. I feel acutely aware of the floor, and the feeling of other floors below me; of the sound of electronics humming; of the safety, of the mindlessness, of the ease.
Last night I woke up from a dream and looked out the window. It was raining hard. I could see the van down there in the driveway getting soaked. I felt guilty; it was as if it were my close friend, rather than my ride, trapped out there in the storm. I thought about all the nights the van had kept me warm and dry (more or less) in storms.
And I reflected on how I never really named the van, and I never got into the ritual of personifying it like some people do to their vehicles. I never called it "her" or "she" etc. I never talked to it.
So looking at it out there in the rain, I sent it a little thought: Thank you.
May flew by; now it's time for me to leave Portland and return to the east coast.
Before I talk about that upcoming journey, I thought I'd reflect on the vandwelling experience of the past 40 or so days in Portland. What did I do? How expensive was it? and so forth....
As I reported in my 2 earlier Portland posts, I found a space to park overnight, discovered a source of very cheap hot-food, and joined a local gym to shower. Those 3 were the game-changers as far as the experience being comfortable or rough. It wasn't rough at all. It was comfortable; in fact, it was downright luxorious.
Getting to shower everyday made me feel civilized. The gym was open 5 am to 10 pm which was good enough for me to get in there once a day. I exercised pretty hard and got back into running shape. I've gained weight on this trip from the beer, calorie-rich food, endless sitting, and lack of exercise, so it was really refreshing to kick my ass again. This gym was Loprinzi's Gym, down near 41st and Division.
In general, I avoided spending time in the van. One, it was hot in there during the day, and two, there was a big beautiful city outside; I didn't want to lurk in the dark. I used the bathrooms at the gym or coffee shop and swore off the Port-a-Potti in the van. I'd really only use the van for sleeping, then come morning get the hell out of there.
Nights in the van were fine. The temperature usually dropped to the 50s so I was comfortable. Of course in an urban area you get disturbances such as motorcycles, trucks, bums wheeling rattly shopping carts etc., but that's OK. I wore an eye-mask to block out the glow from street lights.
Discovering super-cheap hot food at Fred Meyer's every night meant I didn't have to deal with cooking in the van. Cooking in the van can be fun and it's usually more cost-effective, but it creates a lot of waste water. And when you're parked indefinitely in an urban area, getting rid of that waste water is tricky! I don't like dumping on the street. It's offensive, it's ugly, and it can get you in trouble.
How cheap was the Fred Meyer's special? Well, typically, if I eat out, even just buying a sandwich, is 3 - 10x more expensive than cooking rice and beans in the van. I estimated that a standard van-cooked rice/beans meal came out to approximately $1.50, maybe less. The can of beans is around $1, then you factor in the cents for the helping of rice and the propane to heat it. But by hitting up Fred Meyer's every night at 9 PM when they slash the hot-food prices by 50%, I could get more food for less than $1.50. No mess, no prep. And the food wasn't all that bad, either.
I did have to buy coffee everyday in order to sit in a coffee shop to type. That bothered me. But I didn't want to hang out in the van; I wanted to sit somewhere with cool air, electricity, bathrooms, and so on. And there weren't any viable libraries in my neighborhood. So I spent more at coffee shops than I liked to spend. A cup of coffee is anywhere from $1.25 to $1.75 and that's for their stale-ass house brew. Then it's .50 cents a refill, or maybe free refills if it's a larger shop. That adds up. I much prefer brewing my own coffee but it was a sacrifice. I cringed every time I forked over that $1.25...
What else... entertainment was cheap too. I'm entertained by browsing bookstores and there's Powell's (and it's mini-versions) in Portland. Many an evenings were spent trolling the bookshelves. Portland also has some good discount movie theaters and I got to attend some cool "retro" screenings including a splendid showing of THE RUNNING MAN (in case you're unfamiliar, it's a 1980s sci-fi film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is trapped in a gameshow. it's great, and seeing it on the big screen, surrounded by like-minded fans who cheered every time the Governator said something ridiculous, was very fun).
The first few weeks, I was really excited by the bar scene, especially on Hawthorne. I went there every night. But that got old and also costly. A pint of tap beer was usually $3 - $4. A tall-boy of Pabst was $2 to $2.50. And Pabst makes me feel like an alien is about to hatch from my stomach so I generally avoid that crap.
So toward the end of my stay I changed the alcohol-getting ritual. I'd buy a tall-boy at the drugstore. A tall-boy of Tecate or Budweiser - both totally tolerable beers - was around $1.50. I'd take it back to the van, kick off my shoes, put on NPR, and drink it in there like a true wino. This was my little decompression ritual at the end of the day after typing for 8-10 hours. Then once the buzz faded I'd get up and walk over to Fred Meyer's and join the crowd of young people, bums, and hippies who arrive for the hot-food happy hour.
I benefited from arriving in Portland just as the rain stopped and summer began. It's been dry and sunny here the past 2 weeks.
I guess that's it. I had a lot of fun here and I hope to return someday.
Now, I'm driving back east. This time I'm taking the direct route --- straight mind-numbing interstates. No wandering, no exploring, etc. On the east coast I'm going to reconnect with friends and family, then in July take a Wilderness First Responder Course in North Carolina. And after that, I don't know...
I'll try to post from some point on my cross-country express trip. Thanks for reading!
This entry has nothing to do with Portland, van-dwelling, or road-tripping.
On my friend Olivia’s blog she recently posted an entry called “stuff boys like”. Beer and sports seemed conspicuously absent from this list, so I asked her about it, and she stated that she didn’t know any guys who liked those things, and, furthermore, thought these things were gross.
That was the catalyst for the following essay. Many of my friends have been surprised to hear what a football-fanatic I’ve become over the past few years. A common reaction is a curling up of the lips in disgust and “Really?!” as if I just admitted I'm into scat porn. It's true that 5 years ago, the only sport I watched was the annual broadcast of the New York City Marathon and I sneered at football and fans of it. But when I moved to Rhode Island, I started hanging out with football-watchers, and game-by-game, I got hooked.
So I wrote the following essay to describe the elements of football that I find interesting, as well as some of its qualities which I object to.
Let's begin with something I've often heard: “I HATE THE NFL; ITS A BUNCH OF FAT MILLIONAIRES RUNNING AROUND IN THE MUD!"
You 'hate' it for that reason? What? Did you hear what you just said? How could that not be appealing? Where else in the world do you get to watch one millionaire force another millionaire to eat turf? Where else do you get to see a millionaire sit sobbing on a wooden bench wiping the tears with broken fingers while having some kid walk up periodically and squirt gatorade into his mouth? Where else do you see a 400-pound millionaire legally chase down a 140-pound millionaire (I’m referring to when a tackle goes after a kicker, by the way)? Nowhere.
Player payrolls are indeed a turn-off and I think the scale of wealth - in the NFL, or in modern civilization in general - is completely out-of-whack and unjust. But, if you accept the extravagances of football on the level of absurdity, it’s very enjoyable. Society is brimming with the ridiculous and the NFL is just one of its biggest and most conspicuous cases of it. Just consider the NFL on par with the stuff of a satirical novel like "Starship Troopers"- except it’s really happening! In fact, if these guys were making regular salaries, I wouldn’t enjoy it at all; that would just be sick.
THE ANNOUNCERS: The sentences that comes out of those guys mouths... holy shit. It's a show unto itself. But I think in order to appreciate it, you have to be removed from the game and look at it objectively. The whole joke is to take what they say out of context. In fact, for awhile, this was the only way I could enjoy football - by making fun of the crazy sentences uttered by John Madden and his cronies. Classic lines include: “And there’s another Bear on the field!” and also, from this last Superbowl, “He’s one of those guys who always gets penetration!"
THE ATHLETICISM: Football is the fusion of many other sports. Running, jumping, wrestling, throwing, catching, marksmanship, strategy, and leadership. Players in the NFL are at the peak of human fitness - even the “fat” dudes can make incredible jumps and run like The Flash. In each game, no matter how lame the game may be, you’re likely to see some brilliant leaping-catches and bullseye-throws --- all shown in glorious slow-motion, of course. It should make you appreciate the nutty marvelous potential of the human body.
THE MAYHEM: Football is one of the only sports that encourages instances of total mayhem. The best example of this is the fumble. If a ball is dropped but is still alive, the field becomes a real circus. It’s total chaos. If the weather is rainy or snowy, it’s even better. Sometimes a ball will be fumbled 3 or 4 times within the same play; it just keeps flying out of their hands like a bar of soap. The announcers go crazy, the fans piss their pants, and the coaches have aneurysms. Often quarterbacks or kickers who aren’t supposed to get involved in the rough-stuff will be forced into the fray because the ball bounces their way. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the waterboy surfaced in the aftermath of one of these pile-ups.
And yes, in the above graphic, I juxtaposed Bosch to the NFL.
THE MYTHOLOGY: I’ve been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology lately and one thing that seems missing from his essays is an analysis of modern sports in the context of mythology; maybe that’s because Campbell spent the bulk of his career working from the middle of the quad at Sarah Lawrence!
If you follow football, you'll realize early-on that it's not just about winning and losing. Each season has a cast of heroes, villains, dark horses, underdogs, and so on. There are tragedies, comedies, mysteries, science-fiction (thanks to the crazy drone cameras floating around the field!), and even some romance (players are always running around dating celebrities and it often spills over onto the field). Football can be absorbed and enjoyed as modern mytholgy just like comic-books and modern fiction can.
Much of this has to do with how the sportswriters interpret the teams. For example, Tom Brady is always portrayed as noble and unselfish, but who really knows? You have to suspend your disbelief and just get caught up in the myth-making, even if its clearly fiction.
For example, the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team”. They’re supposed to be on par with Superman or GI Joe: brave, noble, and 'the best'. That’s why when they are totally dysfunctional, as they were last season, it can be really entertaining. Imagine watching John Wayne have a hissy-fit while shooting himself in the foot and falling down the stairs of the salloon - that was the train-wreck that was the 2008 Dallas Cowboys.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have a team like the Baltimore Ravens which is universally vilified and portrayed as barbaric. You WANT the Ravens to seem dysfunctional otherwise you’d say they were losing their edge. Is this just because Ray Lewis plays for them and their mascot is an animal synonymous with death? Maybe.
Everyone loves to hear the myth about the back-up player who relieves the injured starter and wins the game; Tom Brady became famous that way. And everyone knows that the Philadelphia fans are some of the cruelest, most abusive spectators in the history of sports, while the crowds at Green Bay are known for have a nearly religious-attachment to each game (I’m sure they’re asshole hecklers, too). The fans for the Oakland Raiders come dressed as skeletons and monsters and form a “black hole” in the stands meant to intimidate the opposing team and invigorate their own. There are the scary linebackers who fulfill the role of the Minotaur at the end of the maze and, in turn, you have the brainy Daedelius-esq coach who enables the player to beat the Minotaur.
The best storyline last year was in the Superbowl, where aging, troubled Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner (above) pulled his shit together for one last hurrah. In 1993, they almost gave Clint Eastwood an Oscar for playing that very same character in “Unforgiven” - so why not enjoy it in the NFL, too? Warner lost, but he went down with his guns blazing, which was the perfect ending.
THE PERSONALITIES: OK, this falls into the “Why I hate the NFL” category. The players and coaches usually do NOT seem like likeable guys to me. Either they take the game so seriously you feel embarrassed for them, or they’re so egotistical and playful that you get mad at them for squandering their gifts. Of course, there’s a whole middle-ground of dudes who just show up and play without being melodramatic, but the networks never show them; why would they when Terrell Owens is just a few yards away throwing a temper tantrum?
THE TENSION: There are only about 12 meaningful games in a season before the play-offs. A team can only fuck up so many times before the whole season is considered a catastrophe and the management starts firing people and planning for next year. That means that every game has a special tension. Compare that, to, say, baseball, where those pot-bellied, polyester-wearing, tobacco-chewing douchebags play, what, 900 games per year? (to baseball fans: relax, in a year or 2 I'll probably be writing an essay about why I like MLB...)
THE FUCKUPS: Making a mistake in front of millions of fans is the risk these players take when they step onto the field. They’re under a level of pressure and scrutiny most of us will never know. It’s inevitable that within each season, there will be a handful of egregious, unbearably-humiliating bloopers. I don’t mean a simple dropped catch. I mean when a player runs the wrong way on the field or a kicker misses the ball. I’m not too proud to say that I really enjoy these cringe-inducing incidents.
THE STRATEGY: Don’t ask me to explain football. I can’t. I might try: “Well, there are two teams, and one ball, and... most of the mascots are cartoon animals!” that’s about as far as I’d get. The NFL rulebook must look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Every time I watch a game, I’m constantly going “What the hell?” in response to some weird play, penalty, or decision. At first, this made me feel disoriented, but now I’ve come to appreciate the depth of knowledge. I like the fact that it’s so fucking complicated; that makes the jobs of the players and coaches that much harder.
Coaches must forgo eating, sleeping, and sex for 6 days out of the week in order to prepare for Sunday... I imagine them sitting up round-the-clock staring bleary-eyed at videos of opposing teams and drawing plays out on chalkboards. And still, more often than not, come game-day, they see their gameplan get totally dismantled by a smarter coach. That’s tragic! And it makes for good entertainment! You often hear how football is like a chess-game. I don’t know how to play chess, so I can’t vouch for that metaphor... but I do know how to play Battleship, and I can tell you that the NFL is a lot more complicated than that...
THE VIOLENCE: When I was a kid, there was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting on the carpet and bashing 2 action figures together for hours on end. I grew out of action figures and matured into playing video-games which were more often than not about 2 guys bashing into each other. Now I’m an adult and I watch that happen in football (of course, I still collect action figures and still play video games...).
Some people object to the violence in football as if it represents some kind of barbarism and, as a civilized people, we shouldn’t bother with that. What? Sure, it’s technically barbaric, but it’s the most controlled, ritualized barbarism imaginable. It’s only barbaric when compared to how soft, quiet, and safe many of our lives have become; it’s like Candy Land when compared to the true war and cruelty that still goes on around the world and that will persist no matter how “civilized” we get.
And this is when I get to the “beer” part of the essay because when I drink beer and watch football, I often find myself getting philosophical and dwelling on how violent the NFL is, and how it fits into society as a whole. I don’t like all violent entertainment. Anything involving unwilling or exploited participants does not interest me. For example, those fuckheads who paid homeless guys to fight and videotaped it: No!!! I’m still scarred from the day my older brother rented “Faces of Death” and I snuck-watched it through the living room window and saw those dudes torturing a monkey: No!!! I also had nightmares after seeing that power-lifter’s elbow pop the wrong way during the Olympics. Again, no!!!!!!
But a bunch of super-athletes in high-tech pads, earning paychecks that range from decent to spectacular, fully informed and fully consenting to the risks of the game, taking to the field and trying to outwit, outrun, outthrow, and outstrong-arm each other - Yes!!!!
Note that there is an element of violence in the NFL which I can’t stand and that’s the freakazoid injuries which happen a few times each season. The photograph of Tom Brady’s knee getting bent the wrong way is burned into my mind, and I still get shivers thinking about how Roy Williams horse-collared Musa Smith and broke his fibia so severely his whole shin looked wobbly! AAGH! That stuff is gross, man! I don’t object to it --- it’s a risk of the game that all those guys take for a chance at fame, glory, and wealth. I just think it’s disgusting, and I don’t want to see it! (it should be noted that the NFL banned maneuevers, such as the horse-collar tackle, which tend to result in those vomit-inducing injuries).
The other dark side to the NFL which has been getting much-deserved attention is the long-term effects of concussions. First of all, let’s all remember what a concussion is: it’s your brain banging against your skull. Now, you can imagine how for these players, who have been diving headfirst into linebackers since 6th grade peewee football, all the way up to age 40, their brains have done a lot of slurping around! Many of these guys go into retirement and, tragically, by age 50 or 55 they’re demonstrating neurological problems normally reserved for people of age 70 or 75. According to critics, this was “covered up” or swept under the rug by the NFL for many years because, obviously, it’s a pretty sad and sobering destiny for these much-beloved sports personalities, and it sucks some of the magic out of the game. Recently, the NFL has opened up to it, and *seems* to be trying to raise awareness about the long-term repercussions of football-related injuries.
THE FANDOM: When I was living in RI, I cheered the New England Patriots, and was lucky enough to follow their magical season where they went undefeated until the Superbowl. I'll probably always have a special place in my heart for the Patriots since they were my "first" team, but really, I don't care. So long as you're familiar with the mythology of the league you should be able to enjoy any game that's showing on the TV over the bar. This past year, while road-tripping, I watched games in cities up and down the east coast, and the season was no less enjoyable.
I can see why people hate NFL fans or sports fans in general. How can you not be condescending towards a guy walking up the street wearing an ill-fitting Drew Bledsoe jersey? There are always stories in the paper about sports fans behaving badly (or in some cases, criminally). I'm not one of those guys and I try very hard to avoid them. I don't wear a jersey, I don't pelt anybody with anything, and I don't cry when my team loses (or wins, for that matter).
Every time you feel repulsed by those types of fans, remember that there is a minority of dudes like me sitting back and interpretting the game on the level of Greek mythology! Thanks for reading.
Hello readers. Thank you for all the positive feedback to my last entry. In response, I've written this entry to give you my impressions of Portland after about 3 weeks of vandwelling here. I've shrunken the images on this entry since there are a ton of them, but as usual, by clicking on them, you can see the full picture in a new window.
ABOVE: A view of downtown Portland from the Burnside Bridge. Portland is known for its many bridges and the Burnside Bridge provides a conduit into the heart of downtown. It's always scenic and windy up there. There's a sidewalk for pedestrians and a lane for cyclists, but sometimes these asshole cyclists come flying down the sidewalk anyway. Why?
ABOVE: The green space along the river. Portland is famous for its abundant green space. The whole river walk area is really gorgeous and pedestrian/cyclist friendly. On weekends, this area becomes a big craft/food fair, with live music, street performers, and a beer garden.
ABOVE: One of the many walkways along the river to encourage outdoor recreation and walking/cycling commuting. May is Bike to Work month in Portland. One of the events includes the city giving free breakfast to cyclists.
ABOVE: World-famous Powell's Bookstore, which I mentioned before on this blog as being the biggest used bookstore in the world (supposedly). You literally can get in lost inside it.
ABOVE: Downtown Portland has these funny water fountains that are always spouting water, without any prompting by a potential drinker. What's with these? Why are they always running? Is that more hygienic or something? Is it just because it looks cool? Or is it Portland's way of boasting about how damn wet this climate is? If you know, please post below.
ABOVE: The endearing food trucks (or carts, whatever) of downtown Porltand. They sell delicious food at low prices.
ABOVE: Plaid Pantry. They're all over the place. They're the 7-11 of the Pacific Northwest.
ABOVE: The Laurelhurst Movie Theater, in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. Note the great coincidence that as I took that picture of the vintage movie theater sign, a vintage yellow car rolled up to the traffic light. Laurelhurst is a fun old-school neighborhood with bars, coffee shops, music/book stores, and so on. The Laurelhurst Theater shows slightly older movies at a discount price. And you can drink beer and order pizza while you're watching.
ABOVE: Laurelhurst park.
ABOVE: I took this picture to show what most of the houses look like in the neighborhoods farther from downtown. I don't know how you'd describe them in proper architectural terminology, so here I go: they're typically low and wide, with big porches, big gardens, and a kind of chaotic, dilapidated look to them. It's great. That's how yards should be. Of course, there are also some stupid-looking houses with senseless amounts of grass, just like anywhere, but they seem to be in the minority.
ABOVE: Fred Meyer's - the Wal Mart of Portland. If you go around 9 PM, they slash the prices of their hot food by 50%. You can get a full hot dinner for 3 or 4 bucks. I've gone a few times for this, joining the crowd of other dinner-bargain-hunters. Its like a weird happy-hour of supermarket dining.
ABOVE: The Hawthorne neighborhood strip. In taking this photo I realized how difficult it is to take pictures of a street. You'll just have to trust me that it's a cool strip of bars and restaurants that seems to make overtures to college-aged people. It's the closest hub to where I've been parked. This is where I go at night when I want to get a beer. There's also a smaller Powell's here for book-browsing.
ABOVE: Rosie the cat, looking pensively toward the Portland skyline from my brother's apartment.
ABOVE: I hadn't showed the interior of the van in awhile, so I thought I would. I strung up an extra line to dry my gym clothes. I've kept the van parked more or less in the same spot since I've been here (with 2 or 3 voyages to my brother's neighborhood) and nobody has bothered me. I've been able to get my drinking water from my brother; I'm not sure where all the other RVers and van-dwellers get it (I haven't seen any of those 25 cent/per gallon vending machines like in the southwest). I also don't know where they go to dump waste, but since there are so many people living in vehicles, there must be some place.
I had been burning candles in the van to combat the moisture level (which may only combat it on the psychological level, but so be it) until I mentioned this to my friend Kate, and she said, "Dude, don't fucking burn candles in the van!" and alerted me to the very depressing health hazards of parafin (google it yourself to learn more). So now I'm in the market for beeswax candles.
Also, for people who follow van-dwelling, there's an important bill underway in Maine that will seriously curtail vehicle-living. Some people are afraid it will set a precedent for laws in other states: http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=255609&ac=PHnws
If you read that article, it basically sides with the bill, and portrays the campground owners as these pitiful business owners who have been unfairly harmed by Walmarts and whatnot. It doesn't describe how disgusting and overpriced most of these RV parks are, nor does it question WHY many campers might choose a parking lot over a campground (because RV parks are disgusting and overpriced). I know some RV parks are family businesses... I'd like to see them thrive, but they've got to come to their senses, and change the way they run their campgrounds if they want to draw in the modern frugal RVer.
Anyway... this is only a snippet of Portland. I'll keep taking photos and do another entry soon. Thanks for reading!