Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The dangers of talking to yourself

Tonight I stopped for dinner at a tiny little restaurant next to an inn down the coast. Had a great little meal; reasonably priced and it's been a few months since I've been there, so I treated myself.

Afterwards, I hung out in the parking lot, and arranged some stuff in my van. Talking to myself-- quietly, or at least I thought I was. Some dude starts knocking on the van, loud, BAM BAM BAM. I wait a minute, then slide the door open and peek outside. It's a very friendly-looking older guy, very coastal looking (skinny, with grey goatee, looks like an aging surfer), asking, "Can I help you guys?". Huh? You guys? I look at him indignantly. No, I said, I just had dinner right here. "Oh!" he says, "Sorry, I didn't know that!" Well, then WTF are you banging on my van for, I thought. The difference between the suburbs and the City, again-- people are going to "may I help you?" in the suburbs, whereas in the City they leave you alone.

I bolted out of there fast. Thinking to myself, "You guys? Did he think there was a party going on in here? Was I really talking loud enough to be heard outside this van, and it sounded like a conversation? I'd better get moving on that soundproofing-- fast!". Well, I thought I was thinking it to myself. Or was I saying it out loud?

I'd better cut out this talking to myself before it gets me into some big trouble.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

PE film

I'm about to tackle the flooring project. My laminate flooring instructions say that, if I'm on a concrete floor, I need to put "PE film" as a vapor barrier underneath before I throw down the underlayment and the floor.

So I wandered into Home Despot to find "PE film". They looked at me like I was from another planet. PE? What is that? Physical Education? I need a gym coach to lay down my floor? Or is it Public Enemy? What is a "PE film", a Public Enemy video? I need Chuck D and Flava Flav to come here and tell me how to lay down my flooring?

After a lot of head scratching by Home Despot staff, it was determined that PolyEthelene film is what I needed. I got some, it was cheap.

This weekend, the "fuel/water separator", the glow plugs, and the floor. I'm steeling myself up for it.

This is not a billboard

I swear, 4am almost to the minute.

Total silence in a residential neighborhood in the City. A big V8 vehicle pulls up and idles. Someone gets out... two young guys, mumbling to each other. Then I hear the hissing.

I punch the wall. I hear, "What was that? Did you hear that?" "Nah, it was nothing". Then more hissing. I scamper over to the peephole and look. Yep, two teenage kids, Vato-style clothes, standing around with spraypaint cans. So I yell, "HEY!" in my best Sicilian mobster voice. The footsteps scramble into the car, instantly, and it drives off. Fast.

A few minutes later, I hear a vehicle speed past. A few minutes later, another one (or the same one again). I dunno. Should I go to sleep, or try to get the vehicle to start (might take a few minutes worth of cranking)? I may wait it out.

UPDATE: I waited, and a few more times the vehicle (looked like a 60's Nova or something) sped by. I went to sleep. I woke up, and all they had managed to do was tag the black tailgate of the box van with some white paint. Glad I stopped them; who knows what they'd planned.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Scary rich people

In my hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing frustration trying to find a parking space (seems to get harder and harder every night), I found myself wandering into a super-rich neigbhborhood. Like, multimillon-dollar walk-up mansions and super-upscale luxury apartments, movie stars live here. And I found a spot right on a fairly big, ordinary-looking street! So I decided to settle in.

I hear footsteps. The footsteps get closer. Clomp clomp clomp-- women's shoes or boots or something with heels. No big deal. Then they stop. Then they walk away, fast. Hmm. I continue getting my dinner ready.

A few minutes later, footsteps again, getting closer, but a couple people. They stop. And I hear a conversation pick up again in the middle, in a tony, upper-class female San Francisco drawl: "I dunno. I've never seen a truck like THAT before!" More conversation, but at this point I don't hear it, because I'm putting everything away immediately and preparing to get underway. The footsteps go away again. I jump into the front seat, start up the beast, and high-tail it out of there faster than you can say "Gee, honey, do you think we should call the cops?".

There is nothing stealthy about a big box van in a rich neighborhood. Doh.


I think that I shall never see, something as maddeningly frustrating as a tree!

I love trees, but I'm starting to hate them. One of the thing that really sucks about having a box van, is that it is too tall. Trees used to be friendly, wonderful things to me, but now they are evil, threatening things that reach out with deadly arms to destroy my van and anything on it.

Over the last two days, I've had three really nasty encounters with trees. Yesterday, one left several of its branches embedded into the roll-up door in the back of my van. Today, another one rammed my van right in the right front corner where it is already injured. A little while ago, another one scraped the crap out of the roof so much that I had to move, the noise when the wind blew (which is constantly, here) was louder than traffic.

Yeah, I know I shouldn't be parking next to trees. And I should look first. That's just it, even if I could see them before I decide to park, there's no other choice. These foul van-destroying creatures are planted every few feet on every block in every neighborhood, rich, poor, old, new, residential, industrial, retail, it doesn't matter. And parking isn't that easy to find regardless. There is no choice: to park, there will be a tree in the way.

Naw, I do love trees. But it bothers me how much I'm starting to dislike them. I feel like soon one of these is going to rip the top off of my van, or screw up my solar panels, or just generally cause me great grief. It's not a good feeling.

Independently poor

Back when I was an obnoxious Silicon Valley yuppie, one of the dot-coms I worked for at the end of the 1990's was clearly going nowhere, so I quit. I didn't have any job lined up. I had some savings from stock sales from the previous company I'd worked for, enough to live on for maybe a year, but nothing major. I was going to try my hand at doing odd jobs-- consulting gigs. The other guys were horrified: "How could you quit with no job lined up?" My soon-to-be-ex-boss said, "Oh, he's independently wealthy." No, I was quick to point out, I'm independently poor.

That's how I feel now, although my expenses are a lot lower now than they were then. I kept that dot-com money mostly intact for almost 10 years, and a huge chunk of it went into buying and converting the van. Whatever remains of it, is my insurance in case the van gets stolen or wrecked. With that, and a little bit of alimony, I am, once again, independently poor.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban vs Suburban Stealth

I'm tired, and fighting off a cold, so I'm not sure if this will make any sense.

But I'm realizing how different trying to blend into a suburban environment is, instead of an urban one.

In an urban environment, being LOUD blends me in. I find it very easy, because that's my nature. Breezing along, doing my thing, with a little bit of an attitude, like, "hey, I belong here", makes me invisible. Everyone is anonymous anyway. Nobody gives a damn. People working are just doing their 9-to-5 (or whatever shift) and don't mind me doing whatever I want as long as I don't put them out or get them into trouble. This morning I walked into a bathroom in a random office building while a dude was painting the stalls. All he cared about was that I didn't mess up his wet paint. No prob. I asked if I could close the door and he said sure. Nobody cares, people mind their own business. They're just trying to make a living. I can dump my van garbage into a can next to a bus stop, and the people waiting for the bus certainly don't mind. In an urban environment, the only threats to me are thieves and graffitti "artists"-- my "stealth" goal is to stay hidden from them. The loud, well-lit, fairly busy areas keep me safer. I am not hiding from authority as much as hiding from criminals or predators.

But in a suburban environment, being quiet and kind of finicky is the only way to blend in. People care a lot, about everything. Homeowners and people who own their businesses take everything really seriously. This evening I had a terrible time finding parking in the City. The only spots I could find were in "tree lined" areas and I kept backing into the trees-- which were so low that I couldn't actually get into the spaces! I also don't feel well and I wanted quiet. So I headed out to the suburbs. I pulled into a suburban gas station to check any damage to my van. I found a huge tree branch stuck to the gap in my roll-up door! I took the branch out and put it next to a shrub growing out of the curb in front of the gas station. The gas station owner came out, livid, yelling at me to clean up the "mess"! Leaves and branches are a mess? Compost is good for plants, ya know. The transition from urban to suburban can be jarring and kind of frightening. In a suburban environment, the biggest threats to me are homeowners, business owners, and cops-- my "stealth" goal is to stay hidden from them. I am hiding from authority. That requires a totally different way of being: very polite, very careful, very quiet. And I actually don't like it very much.

All in all, I much prefer the urban approach to the suburban approach. If I had better soundproofing in the van, I'd probably never go near a suburb again.

Another reason I love cities

Cities are my country, I think. I love walking in them as much as other people love walking in nature. Then again, I love walking in nature too, but walking in cities makes me feel even more settled and at home.

Walking down the street, I found a little storefront business that sold corned beef. That's it! Just corned beef! A whole business-- mind you a small one-- that just sold one particular specialty food. And obviously has been there for 30 or 40 years, and also obviously still doing well (delivery van parked in front looked brand new).

Now, I'm mostly vegetarian and I don't like corned beef anyway. But this kind of specialty business is the sign of a thriving, diversified economy, IMHO, and you only find this kind of thing nowadays in cities.

I suppose after gas gets to US$10/gallon, and the Wally World empire with its truck-driven JIT inventory techniques comes to a screeching halt, then maybe small towns will once again evolve the kind of economic ecosystem as well-- lots of small shops and independent business owners, selling things grown and made locally, that kind of thing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More great and simple things

Someone on the list suggested cutting the top off of an empty gallon jug of water, and using that to store the ice in the cooler, to contain the melting water so that the cooler doesn't get all wet.

Brilliant idea.

I got a 2 gallon jug, the square one, so that I can fit a 10lb block of ice in it. It's a tight squeeze but it works. And it keeps the cooler dry!

I also got a box of baking soda and put it in there to alleviate the "stale cooler smell" too. Works like a champ.