Thursday, May 29, 2008

Standards of cleanliness

I've never been a neat and clean kind of person, but I'm realizing now how high my standards of cleanliness had gotten-- and how much they've lowered since vandwelling.

For many years I've been a shower-once-a-week kind of guy-- yeah, sloppy I know-- but now I get dirtier. I'm still on the once-a-week program.

It took me only a couple days to get used to peeing in a Nalgene bottle and emptying/cleaning it.

Never been much of a floor/walls cleaner, but I'd gotten used to those being relatively clean. Not anymore-- my floors are loaded with dust, dirt, hair (I'm in my 40's-- the stuff is falling out) and bits of food and stuff. And it bothered me for a while but no more.

But I've always been scrupulous about keeping food and food preparation areas clean. But I've gotten over that. When I started vandwelling in Feburary, I tried to scrub every utensil, bowl, and food storage container. Not anymore. I wipe or rinse forks or bowls and put 'em away. I clean my pots and pans with bread, and then give them a rinse with a spray bottle and a once-over with a sponge and soap, then off they go until tomorrow. I started out rinsing and cleaning my cooler out every few days; I just cleaned it yesterday for the first time in several months.

What's starting to bother me now is the smell. I still don't have my vent in, and the van is getting stuffy. Smells kinda funky in here now. I suppose the vent/fan will help, as will a clear plastic skylight that lets UV rays in (UV is a disinfectant), and then I'll sweep the whole thing out in order to put in the floor. Once the new floor is in, I'll have to sweep it once in a while too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Found the limit

I've found the limit of what my solar power setup can handle, and did my first deep-cycle of the batteries.

I was very much an Interet hermit this weekend, and spent three solid days curled up inside the van, on the computer almost the whole time. I didn't leave the van except to go to the bathroom and buy some food. But I was also parked in a relatively shady spot, with the sun obscured by a tall building most of the morning and by trees all day except for a few hours in the afternoon. And winter has arrived in San Francisco: our cold season is now, when it's foggy and windy all day every day. So not much sun.

With the computer running all day and night, and not enough sun to really fully charge the batteries in the day time, the batteries got down to 12.1 volts for the first time ever. The yellow warning light came on to the charge controller.

Today I'm in full sun, trying to recover from this error. The solar panels are pulling 11 amps, and the battery is STILL not charged at 11AM, and the yellow warning light is still on.

I'm going to get off of the computer now and let the batteries charge up all afternoon, in the hope that by late afternoon they'll be back up to their customary happy 14.1 volts, and the charge controller will be buzzing like an angry bee, which is what it does when the batteries are full up and there's tons of sunlight streaming onto the panels.

I hope it will, anyway. It'll be an interesting experiment.

Sorry, batteries. Didn't mean to pound on you so hard.

UPDATE: Well after a full day of 11 amps, the batteries STILL did not fully charge! I shut everything down, and now after a foggy morning at about 6 amps, and an afternoon that's starting to clear and a few hours of 11 amps, I'm finally seeing 13.8V and the controller is finally starting to buzz and whine as it does when the batteries are nearing full charge. Still no 14.1 volts yet, though, and that's full charge. I hope to get there within a few hours.

UPDATE 2: It took THREE days. It is May 29, and, after sitting it in full 11-amp sun, and not using anything electrical all morning long, by early afternoon the thing was FINALLY up to 14.1 volts. Very happy that it got there. Tonight when the sun went down the batteries were at 13.1 volts, which is the normal "start point" for the evening for me. Usually after many hours of nighttime computer use, by the time I go to sleep the batts are at 12.7 volts.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peace Go With Ya Brother

It's raining. In May! This does not often happen.

I'm up late, reading the news, about the price of gas escalating, and the collapse of the housing market, and a possibly fatal crisis of the fiat money system, and the skyrocketing prices of food, and a dramatic raise in the price of biodiesel I'm paying, and just worrying about very hard times ahead. Not just how I will survive, but how everyone will. I'm reading a story about a Russian researcher who's uncovered evidence that suggests that nearly 7 million people starved to death in the USA between 1931 and 1932, using the same methodology that Russians recently used to uncover the starvation of the Ukranians (some history which the Communists suppressed) during the same period. I'm slowly processing the realization that this country will soon go through a convulsion that will make the Great Depression look like happy days.

I had parked in a place that felt sketchy to me. Too close to all-night activity. I was worried that I'd snore and then someone would call the cops (how can you be "stealthy" if you snore??!). I was going to stay up and then sleep in, so that my snoring would be covered by daytime activity.

It's getting close to 4AM, the Time That Bad Things Happen To Me In My Van.

I'm just about to go to bed. And then, at 3:45AM, I feel it... the van is moving from side to side! WTF? It wasn't windy. Wait, I know what that is... someone is climbing in to my van! I slam on the wall really hard. It doesn't stop anything... still more van shaking. Then the door to the box opens! Someone is not only in my cab, but trying to get in here to where I'm sitting! HEY!!! I yell, as loud as I can. I grab a big, thick flashlight (good for seeing-- or bludgeoning someone into unconsciousness). Someone in a dark coat closes the sliding door, climbs out, leaves the van, and closes the driver's side door. I hear him walking away. It's still raining. Who would be so brazen as to break in to a vehicle, and then just WALK away?

I spend a few minutes collecting myself. I resist the urge to go chase him down. After the raw, animal territorial fight instinct has dissipated, I realize that my van doesn't start so well, and I could be a sitting duck there turning the crank trying to start it. Hmm. I wait a few more minutes, thinking, and looking through my surveillance portals. I see a figure lumbering away, but slowly and with no apparent destination. WTF again?

So I take my flashlight, and climb into the driver's seat, and the thing starts right up. Whew.

The figure who apparently tried to break into my van, is shuffling along, a block away. I decide to leave the neighborhood, but feel compelled to go towards this guy instead of flee from him. Now that I've calmed down, I'm more curious, and no longer angry or afraid anymore.

The guy looks over his shoulder at me. He crosses and uncrosses the street. Then I figure it out. He has nowhere to go! He's not a car thief; he's homeless. It's raining. He was looking for a dry place to sleep. How did he get in though? Did I leave the door unlocked? That would have been very stupid of me, but possible. It was wet, and raining. Maybe the guy thought this was an abandoned van he could curl up in or a few hours to stay dry? And my whole feeling towards this guy changed. I felt a tremendous sympathy for him. I'm not that different from him. I kept hearing in my head the Gil-Scott Heron song "Peace Go With You Brother" (this link might work still: ), one of his lesser-known songs, and one I've been thinking about a lot lately.

I find a new place to park, a few blocks away, in a different direction from the one he was wandering in. I step out and look at the outside of the vehicle. No signs of break in; the lock appears not to have been tampered with. I guess I left it unlocked; how very stupid. I'd better be a lot more cautious about that.

The cab smells awful, vaguely of human feces. I feel itchy all over. Yep, that was it. Homeless guy, trying to stay dry. Suddenly I feel very lucky, very privileged, very rich, in my van. And very guilty for having been so vicious and territorial towards someone in such a hard situation.

I hope he makes it through the night OK. I definitely didn't want him in my van at 4AM, but I really regret not having found some other way to have helped him.

Peace go with ya, brother.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Beautiful day!

Currently I'm parked at a beautiful and nearly empty beach, down the coast, doors and windows open, overlooking a huge open field of native plants and of course the Pacific Ocean, spectacular cliffs and rocks, and a harbor off in the distance, and listening to the crash of the waves and the songs of the birds. What a great way to cool off on a hot day!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

First police encounter

Had my first run in with the police last night. It was because of my own sloppiness of course. One thing that sucks about vandwelling is that one relatively small mistake can cause huge, serious problems. Gotta stay on my toes-- or else.

I have been working a lot lately (which is great... but for very little money, which is not so great) and had gone 24 hours with very little, if any, sleep. So early in the evening I headed to what was one of my favorite suburban beach spots, to watch the sunset and cook some dinner, and then take a nap. There's a 10PM limit on parking at this location; I didn't remember the exact time but I knew I definitely couldn't spend the night there. I was too tired to cook. I decided to take a nap. Right before I passed out, I had a thought to set my alarm for 10PM so that I could get out of there before cops came around. But I was so wiped out I didn't have the energy even to pick up the alarm clock and set it. I've been unable to nap more than a few hours anyway lately, and I didn't think I'd sleep too late. It was only 6:30PM, after all.

I woke up to someone banging really hard on the van. I could tell I'd been asleep a long time. I grabbed my glasses and got up to take a look to see what's up. Then I heard it "Whoop! Whoop!". Uh-oh, cops.

So I stuck my head out of the van and there's a cop standing behind the van, yelling at me to get out. Fine, I stumble out, hands out, still asleep really, but waking up quickly, police car headlights shining in my face. What are you doing here, he asks? I came for the sunset, I replied, and I took a nap, and must have overslept.

The cop asked me if there was anyone else in there. Nope. OK, license and registration please. He comes close enough to me to take my outstretched license, but still stays quite a distance away. I climb back in to get my registration and insurance for him. And I close the door to the box, which apparently I'd left open when I first came out.

He asks if I can open the rolling door and see what's in the back. My first reaction is to say, "No", because I do not want to consent to a search, or answer a lot of questions about living in a van. But I thought, there must be some reason he wants to look around, and I should tell him why I don't want him to. So instead I said, well I know the rules about being in the parking lot after hours, but I also know the rules about search and seizure. He replied, I'm not going to search, there's just a lot of weird stuff that goes on around here. "Weird stuff", I asked, like what? He said, I want to make sure you don't have an exchange student tied up in there or something.

Yikes! No wonder he's so being so cautious. OK, sure, I open the box. He pokes around with a flashlight. This makes him comfortable; cops in general are used to being able to poke their flashlight into your vehicle and look around. He looks at the sheets of insulation. What's in those boxes, he asks? Those aren't boxes, they're sheets of insulation. He reads the label on them, indeed, that's what they are.

At this point I'm very glad that I have those there. I left them there to keep crooks and criminals from seeing any valuables in the van in case I have to open the back-- it just looks like a cargo van filled with crap. But it also came in handy here too. He stood there for a long time, not moving, not saying anything, and not really aiming the flashlight at anything in particular. Then I figured out why-- he was listening, probably for anyone moving or breathing in it. There's nobody in there though, and he pretty soon figures that there's no "weird stuff" going on, just an old hippie who might be in one of the building trades, with a van full of insulation and scrap plywood and tools, who came out to watch the sunset, and probably smoked too much pot (I don't smoke at all, actually, but I look like I do) and fell asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time. OK, you can close it up. So I do.

He does all that license stuff. As he does, I notice the whole parking lot is empty. It's totally dark, except for two police cars with their lights on.

And I'm thinking, damn, are there kidnappers out here at night? Was I safe here after dark? I'm starting to be very glad that they woke me up, even if it was in a kind of jarring way.

When all is done, he sends me on my way. I'm happy that the van started up on the first try too.

Things I have learned:
1. NEVER EVER take even the shortest nap anywhere that there's a time limit, without setting an alarm first.
2. Secluded spots might not be such a good idea. Hiding in plain sight (i.e. more populated ares) might be safer, depending on who is populating them.
3. I'm glad I learned how to deal with cops: just answer their questions simply, don't offer any information unless it's specifically asked for, try to understand the fear that a cop has of making a mistake that'd embarass him by letting someone dangerous get away-- or, worse, getting seriously hurt or killed himself, and don't try to make up any B.S. stories.
4. NEVER have a favorite or regular parking spot. You're playing the law of averages, and repeatedly going back to the same spot is asking for trouble. Move around, and don't ever get comfortable (this one is hardest for me. I really want to be comfortable and sedentary, and I'm a creature of habit; moving around is work).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More randomness

I've also noticed that I get a lot cleaner when I shower and/or dry off outdoors in the open air. Also seems to dry me off faster. I don't know why, but it works.

Speaking of one of the things that sucks about vandwelling is how dirty I get. Man, do I get filthy! And I'm going a week or so between showers, so I smell pretty evil too.

I found a public pool that is cheap and convenient, but they want a doctor's note before they will let me in (liability issues-- this is California, the most litigious state in the most litigious country on Earth), and the doctor wants me to make an appointment. And I don't have medical insurance anymore. So I'm at a bit of a stalemate. I guess I'll call and make the appointment-- being able to shower whenever I like would be a big help.