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.