Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just another repair...

A little more money here. Another repair there. Wow, just when I though that things were sailing smoothly for Sweet Pea and me another mechanical issue comes up. On Saturday night I went to start her up and surprise! Nothing.
“Okay, well maybe she’s just cold”, I thought. And considering the temperature has been in the 40’s as of late, it was sound reason.  Fast forward another 20 minutes and she’s still not starting.
Sunday morning (Christmas day) I call AAA to get a jump. To my surprise a technician was there within 15 minutes, and not at all grumpy to be.  He was extremely helpful and after the successful electrical boost he even peaked around under the hood to try to locate the underlying problem. Easy: my alternator. It wasn’t holding a charge. 
For some reason, Sweet Pea is taking a liking to breaking down on holidays. Maybe she shares the same awkwardness around family gatherings and gift exchanges as many do. I’m now prepared for a scheduled break down on Easter, Saint Patty’s and Memorial Day. Though, we did just make it through Hanukkah, so she must be cool with Judaism.

By Sunday afternoon I have had the ol’ girl towed to a RV repair shop.  It’s owned by the rosy-cheeked, soft-bellied Spanish speaking Osmundo.  This is where she will spend an evening with a motley crew of greasemonkies because though Osmundo assures me that it’s a small problem and I can collect my home in the next couple hours, I decide to capitalize on the opportunity to get some fresh air and head back by bicycle for a 45 minute cruise in which I precariously practice my new trick of riding with no hands.

The next day I pull a long shift at work, delirious from the night before in which I received very little sleep due to too much fun with friends, then hoped back on my fire engine red Bianci and hit the slopes for the shop.  It’s pretty much the last thing I want to be doing at the moment, being so exhausted, but the chilly 4 o’clock air perks my lethargy and I make it to the shop minutes before closing time. I’m warmly greeted by a chorus of blue-suited handymen, then Osmundo teaches me the Spanish words for “alternator”, and “Do I owe you any money back?” while I pass over the scraps of my last paycheck, which was intended to hold me over until the next bit of sustenance. Curiously though, I am not deflated, or even upset about spending the $250. Maybe because it instilled the belief in me that perhaps I have taken care of another one of the big things that at some point would need attention, so maybe, that’s just one more thing crossed off the list…perhaps?
I drive back to where I am keeping her these days in Emeryville, exchange my last $20 for fuel and give her a little drink. 

So now I’m about to go out and start her. And with a little luck, she will actually start. I’m working other aspects of the beast, ahem, the beauty.  There are a number of external “booboos” that need some attention, and I want to begin painting the exterior of the cab. I’m thinking a pea color…suitable, no?  At the moment she still has “Big Ugly” penned across both front doors, and it’s doing nothing for her confidence. Time for a face-lift. 
Also on the agenda for the next couple days is figuring out the water situation and installing the compostable toilet (an upcoming entry all on it’s own).  When I was staying with Jacqui and Sean I filled up the water tank, but now when I open the faucet only a gurgling noise arrives, no water.  So, I’ve got to try and sort that out so I can at least brush my teeth and wash my hands in there. And once that’s sorted, it’s on to figuring out how to heat the water with the internal water heater for the possibility of a hot shower….ugh, just listing this stuff is wearing me out.  Before I get too overwhelmed, I better get out there and get to work. One project at a time. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cold Flowers

There is nothing more to this moment than me in this chair
Listening to music in a different language
Saturated by distant memories of golden and disappearing sunsets
(Unrequited lust).

There is nothing less to this moment than this.
The fresh blood of these memories sneaking out between coagulated scars.
Reminders that wounds still ache
And pain still feeds off vulnerability.

There is nothing more to this artificial light that hangs heavy in even eggshell color.
The flower of this evening has already bloomed and crumpled upon itself,
Shivering through furrows of thin, pastel skin
Wrapping its cold heart inside the interminable bosom of silk layers
That tear tragically with a weak stroke by a clumsy finger.

Though it is late and
I have nothing more to give to this moment than my tired fingers,
My perception of time
Continually beats against my will to create.
Impassioned protests oppose the thirst for production
Refusing to allow satiation in full…

Instead there is a force
Who wishes to wrinkle me like the weak flower
And crush my bones as if crisp stems of pale green.
It fiddles with my eyesight
And deviously paints the lids with a lead lacquered brush.   

I grow ponderous with each tap of the finger
Though simultaneously fulfilled in obstinate victory.

I may fall to the sleep in luxurious languor
But will recount some woes before settling for the moonless scene.

Jacqui: A Woman of Many Animals

Written: 2/07/2011

Can you tackle the world with the feral fervor of a lioness?
With the purity of a raindrop…
The sharpness of an owl’s gaze?

Can you spread your wings in anticipation of the soar, with the invisible suction of your intellect’s pull and the everlasting rewind of your passion’s exploration?

Can you expose tu corazon like a wounded fighter, with the gush of blood that your pursuit will elicit?

Close your eyes and prop open the door to the waves that crash your bones and encapsulate your fears.

Can you catch a hold of the peacock’s blazing tail to clasp it in your hands made of impermanent presence…
Slipping it’s shimmering feathers into your warm palm, while they burst out and shine through your fingertips…
to illuminate those dreams cast heavy in your eyes?

Speak softly in a bear’s roar, sweetly in a lemon’s twist, and powerfully like an elephant’s lunge.

Can you draw water in buckets from the reservoir of hope that’s buried below your ribs, while letting a bit drip to the needy ones of our planet whose anguishing search leads to the oro precioso your spirit produces?
This gold, its embers are enough to ignite a volcano. It’s whispers supply a world of tongued thought.

You can, my friend, ride the rainbow’s ridge and tame the zebra’s stripes if you wanted to. But these are trivial conquests to a soul so saturated in the azules of our oceans, the flash of our stars, the tunes of our voices, and the electrical flares of our minds.

You can, my friend, reckon the moon to rise when the sun is expected for your passion and dangerous excitement for life birth your ability to be. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As of today I’ve spent four nights in ol’ Sweet Pea. Last night would’ve been my fifth but instead I am cheating, somewhat. Already…I know!! Well, a friend left his homey studio apartment for a couple weeks and tempted me with four stationary walls and electrical sockets. Last week I shivered through the initial nights of darkened urban RV life, so, I deliberated on the house-sitting offer for only a moment, then accepted, justifying this pseudo-holiday by pledging to spend as much time as possible finishing the colossal organization project that is still bogging down the interior living space of Sweet Pea. Thankfully, my friend lives in a somewhat industrial area of town and there is ample street parking, so my ol’ lady is parked just across the street, begging for some attention. My next blog will include details about this whole organization project and just how comically tedious it has been.  But for today, I’d like to focus on another topic: The costs of getting The RV Experiment up and running.

I went into this experiment completely inexperienced. Granted, as a kid my folks owned motor homes and fifth wheels that sheltered us on local camping trips, mostly in RV parks alongside other half-ass adventurers, but at times we’d roll into less developed terrain.  I have warm memories of my family and three others, the Cookes, the Devines, and the Drennans all parked in a neat row like a package of hot dogs at the chosen location. Awning pulled out, lawn chairs open, barbecues a-blazing, adults drunk on cheap booze and kids tipsy with sugar, white bread and fresh air, it was always superior fun. Our family’s first recreational vehicle was a 1965 “Smokey” trailer, aptly named Smokey.  He was a tiny little fellow and easily pulled by my mother’s aging gray Accord, Foxy.  
Smokey appeared very similar to this trailer
Smokey’s modest size served my small family well but as the years rolled by he was subsequently swapped for one a little bigger, then one a little bigger the next year.  By time I was sixteen, my father had splurged on a forty foot “Bounder” RV, with a slide-out living room and enough space to host my teenage weekend backyard parties.  

Big Boy Bounder

Many memorable underage drinking stories were formed in the Bounder.  He was a special one but sadly, didn’t have a name, probably due to his lack of homely charm such as Smokey or Sweet Pea’s. So, I would lie if I said I had zero familiarity in motor homes.  Though in regards to this experiment, it is the very first time I have ever owned, driven, and cared for one of my own. 
I found her on Craigslist, like many other treasures over the years, and immediately crossed the Bay Bridge in excited anticipation of what this rolling home would look like. After arriving in Berkeley, I rode my bike to the Marina where I was met by two like-minded artists/bodyworker/Burner/experimental types who were offering up Sweet Pea (still named “Big Ugly” at the time) for the equivalent of two months rent in The City.  Two hours and many stories later, we shook hands and she was mine. This brings me to the first topic I’d like to discuss: the costs. Maybe some people are wondering, “What does it cost to live in an off-the-grid and under-the-radar RV? Well, perhaps this section can help expound an answer.

Costs of Living in a RV

First, one buys their vessel. I was aiming for cheap, and considering I had very recently returned from 3.5 months of traveling abroad when I was on the search, I could really only afford something cheap. I needed to be able to purchase an RV, make necessary repairs, register it, and buy insurance and AAA all for under 2,500 smackers, the remainder of my savings. Having a little money left over for food would be nice too. Here’s what the first week of expenditures set me back:

Sweet Pea: 1600
Insurance: 120 
Registration: 20                       
AAA: 140
Fuel (half tank): 100
Subtotal= $1980                                   

Even though I was new at this, I was not so completely naive as to think that I could get away with purchasing a sixteen hundred dollar RV without having to make some repairs- even with my exceptionally good luck. I handed over the cash and successfully shook 45 minutes south on the freeway to Newark, where the kindest, eternally generous souls I know who come packaged in the lovable married couple of Jacqui and Sean Kruithoff, were letting me park my home for the first week. I was to stay in their extra bedroom while I painted and modified Sweet Pea. For months prior, they had been kind enough to store my belongings in their home while I was traveling, so I needed to collect and transfer my life-in-boxes too.

Awesome People: Sean & Jacqui

It was November 3rd.  
A week later I have painted the interior a Lucha Libre’s fantasy and am in the driver’s seat again, but this time each attempt at starting Sweet Pea is unsuccessful. She will not turn over, no matter how much pray, beg, or plead.  Okay, since magical witch powers weren’t going to work I needed a more earthbound tactic. 
“Alright, time to call backup”, was my next thought.  With beefy jumper cables in hand, an ever-faithful and miraculously reliable dear friend Benjamin came to my rescue in his illustrious Suzy the Subaru. With the umbilical link between them, Suzy tried with honorable effort to spark Sweet Pea’s chilled heart. Still, nothing. Well, at least the whole day was not lost. It was Thanksgiving weekend after all, so I whipped up a meal complete with mushroom gravy and gluten free beer. At least I was able to give thanks for having two things in this world: a home- even if it wasn’t in working order- and a solid friendship with a great human being.
A couple more days pass by and Sweet Pea is still sitting unpretty in her sordid complacency.  I beckoned AAA to employ their expertise and willingness to jump her. Nada.  No juice. 
Having been parked in the same spot for too long, I’ve received police warnings and ticket threats: fussy suburbanite neighbors complained that I needed to move my beast. It being Thanksgiving weekend, all mechanic and RV shops are closed up for the holiday.  So, I’ve a bit of a conundrum.  I tag a heartfelt note to my windshield with the plea to not tow my vehicle.
“First thing Monday morning it will be towed to a mechanic!”

Monday, November 28th. Afternoon brings another AAA visit, but this time with a tow truck. Sweet Pea is deposited at a nearby mechanic, where she spends another week with Duane, the repairman and shop owner.  It’s the first week of December when I arrive on bicycle to California Camper Repair to get my girl. I feel like an embarrassed young mother arriving at the principle’s office to collect my naughty child.  A salt and pepper haired man greets me with curious concern as to why a girl, such as myself, is driving around a big thing like this.  After a decorous weave through his questioning and a four hundred dollar bill I’m able to drive her off the plot. A repaired carburetor and choke seem to have done the trick. 

Parked back in front of Jacqui and Sean’s place, but this time starting upon command, I have resolved to be out of my friends’ home by the next week. I get to work on minor repairs that would create a more comfortable living space. There was a small wall that I wasn’t fond of, so I decided to knock it out. I bought some necessary tools and got to work. Wow, if you ever have any bottled up frustrations, try knocking out a wall! It’s incredible!  I propose that if many criminals just had a home improvement project that included pulverizing Sheetrock and plasterboard, there may be a significant decrease in violent crime.  
The next project was to remove one of the bunk beds in order to convert the space into “the lounge”, where I was to have a small “L” shaped bookshelf lining two walls and a comfy couch that could double as a guest bed.  With the wall out of the way, I trashed the old top bunk, measured and sawed out the appropriate amounts of wood here and there, and created the bookshelf out of a minimal amount of wood.  Instead of buying new cushions to line the bottom bunk, I resized and recovered an already owned couch cushion.

Mechanic: 400
Tools: 50
Wood: 10     
Subtotal: $460

Home Furnishings:
What is any home without the proper amenities? Well, I guess my version of these comforts is so practical it’s a stretch to call it such. Under this category falls a new mattress, shower head, shower curtain and hooks, carbon monoxide monitor, battery powered lantern and lights, a gross amount of double A batteries, candles, torch lighters, hooks and screws, paint, and a portable vacuum. I’m proud to say that I resisted the donut-maker tray at Target and walked out of the store still soundly a purchaser of only the necessities.  I already owned or had been recently gifted dishes, cutlery, and appliances. As for extraneous decorations, I’ve never had a problem livening up my living space or needed to plague the walls with generic store-bought kitschy crap. Between my artists compadres and myself I have obtained enough fantastic and quirky artwork to keep guests’ eyes and minds busy and entertained.

Mattress: 270
Other Stuff: 150
Subtotal: $420

With all of this taken into consideration, the initial month of urban life in my unconventionally urban living space was not all that cheap.  At a grand total of $2,860 I was over budget, but had thankfully acquired a job by this point and had earned more money to contribute to the start up costs.
My early daydreams about living in a RV included the notion that it would be cheaper than living in a studio or renting a room in a flat.  At this point, I’m still waiting for that whole concept to pan out.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The RV Experiment Entry #1

It must be the years of living with two parents in the Army, the conditioning that comes with that lifestyle of continual change and the constant feeling of being on-edge. And though we moved around this gorgeous country a fair bit, in comparison to my neo-army brat counterparts, I was lucky. I had sustaining friendships that weren't uprooted every year, more like every five. As a small person, I knew two coasts, three states, and four cities before I even knew that I knew them. My first memories are a hodge-podge of patchy images moving with tall oak trees and Barbie doll birthday cakes gobbled up in vast backyards of itchy green grass. I also gleam snippets of me, my one and only very special brother, Wes, and our uncle Kenny- who is notoriously fond of rusty treasures- all on our hands and knees, searching for the leftovers of early American settlers buried in the cool mud of an abandoned Virginia battlefield.

When I was around four, my mother and father packed up once again and led us to Washington D.C., trying for a more exciting place, I suppose. Memories from this point are more precise...the hazy remnants of early childhood falling off like the eggshell of a newborn chick. I spent six years in what I can only call bliss, for I knew not of the impending changes that would arrive only months after my tenth birthday, nor did I even have the capacity to project much farther than my next lemonade stand, mud-pie business, or rope swing takeover.  My friends and Wes -and sometimes his friends- were my world, as was my dog, Magic. In the humid Maryland summertime we ruled our rickety outdoor forts with elaborate, eternally changing sets of rules. We chased the ice-cream man for what felt like miles, crying out for a drippy Mickey Mouse face on a stick. In fall we raked leaves, sometimes for money if we were lucky, but nonetheless we were always inclined to jump in them whilst praying we dodge worms and sewer rats. In winter we built igloos, and played "kick the can" under the ancient Oak tree. I was perpetually too slow and always caught.  If it was too cold, our steamy breath would billow out of our hiding spot, exposing us to whomever was it, huddled together then frantically launching our miniature legs into the sprint of a fugitive. Spring gave us eggs to hunt and with fervor characteristic to small children or adult geniuses we dedicated endless hours picking out each and every neon ellipsoid to be found. This was my life for about six years: dictated by four rich and fluid seasons and the equally sumptuous soul food delivered by the cocoa brown hands of my surrogate African mothers. In my eyes, everything else was minutia.  

One typical mid-year day I was teaching myself “When the Saints Go Marching In” on my Casio keyboard when my parents arrived home with what was presented as an option, though in hindsight it was a greatly successful manipulation.  I got to choose where we were to move next: Georgia, Arizona, or Saudi Arabia.

All I heard was “Peaches”, “Cowboys versus Indians”, and “Sawbee Adababia”…whatever that was.  Naturally, I chose adventure and mystery. And what could be more thrilling than wild horses, men with long-rifled guns, Indians in face paint and a terrain crawling with critters. Furry, spiked, mean, stinky critters. Arizona we were headed.

I spent many a year in that desert very unhappy.  In writing it looked much more appetizing, but that was before I could discern the difference between dessert and desert. The former proved to be much, much sweeter.  It took me until I was able to drive to begin the appreciate the beauty that had been blossoming in fuchsia cactus flowers, setting in the purple sunset behind a jagged mountain face, squirming in colorful scaled skin, and swirling in a haphazard dust-devil through a parched stretch of clay. Once I began to acclimate to the insane heat and warm to the spicy green chiles, soft Oaxaca cheese, and the tart nopales jelly made from our front yard cacti, I was able to call this my home. When driving to a friend’s house, whether it was five or forty-five minutes from my own, I could take small dusty roads through relatively unknown territory and pretend to be the first explorer in the emptiness.  I embodied the rugged cowboy that initially formed my image and expectations of Arizona. 

This rosy period was short lived though, as are most infatuations.  It faded like the saccharine passion of new lovers and while it lazily slipped away, I knew that I would have to leave.  I understood that if I stayed in the gentle apathy of the Arizonian desert culture I would grow languid.

So, I did what I know how to do well. I moved. Far away to the Bay Area of California where I have remained since.  And though technically still in the same area for 6 years, I can count the homes I’ve inhabited like roses in a bouquet.  Here, the longest I’ve remained in one spot is two years.  And that felt like the yellow brick road leading to permanent imprisonment.

As a result of my many moves, as well as being reared by two travelers, it does not surprise my loved ones any longer when they hear of my next step that includes some sort of move.  I feed off the instability the change produces, the newness that bubbles up and out it. 

This leads me to my next step- one wholly different than any others lain before it. Uncreatively named “The RV Experiment”, it is exactly what it sounds like. Well, that actually depends on what your associations with RVs and experiments are. I’m not producing methamphetamine.  Nor am I what one may call trailer-trash; I’m not planning on getting a shotgun, a hound-dog, or a sloppy wife…though, at least one of those may be good protection for a gal living off the grid. No, no. I’m living in my RV for one year, beginning with December 16th, 2011, which was the first night I officially lived in it, having spent the entire night tucked away in the fleecy sheets of my lofted bed. “Sweet Pea”, as she will be referred to for the remainder of the experiment, is a 1977 Dodge Establishment with a 440 Engine. She’s OLD. Technically she is considered a classic and I’m kind in saying that she is ugly. Something more along the lines of….busted.  Anyway, she works. And that’s what I was aiming for when purchasing this hunk-o-metal.  This experiment is designed to document at least one year spent living off the grid, per say, in an urban environment in unconventionally urban housing.  I aim to describe my experience with as much candor as I can, and it appears that it won’t be difficult to find prodigious humorous scenarios to boot.

This is entry #1.

Many more to come. Thanks for following me on this journey.