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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Native Homeland, Toronto and area.

Left: Evening Toronto Skyline

On my Great Canadian Sentimentality Tour '07, paying homage to my birthplace was the focal point. On the way east, I stopped and worked the Port Credit Blues and Jazz Festival, staying for about a week. On the way back west, I stayed in the Toronto area, for around 10 days. I can only touch on some of the memories, for there are too many to write here on one page.

I was originally born in Weston, which is a northwest part of Toronto, Ontario (T.O.). But, I actually grew up in Peel county, just next door to the west. Our first house was out in the countryside; my father, his brother and my grandfather built it in the late '40's. In 1968, we moved down to the lakeshore community of Port Credit (P.C.), where I became a young adult. Although I didn't technically live in T.O., I consider it to in my hometown area.

Left: Ontario countryside

When I started to get close to T.O., I felt my 'roots' beginning to grow. I recognized the countryside, the 'lay of the land', the woodlots and rolling fields; I knew this countryside like the back of my hand. As a youth, I cycled and hitchhiked throughout Southern Ontario. As I drove down the main highway of my home county, the wave of memories versus the present day vistas, was like being in a surreal movie. Funny, no matter how things change, they still remain the same.

Down by the lake (lake Ontario), P.C. waited for me. I cruised into town, and booked myself in the Ol' Newport Hotel. I was going to be very busy for the Festival, and I wanted a convenient location for my base, about 5 min. walk from the site. Also, it was excellent stumbling distance from all the parties of the next while. And what a hoot is was!!!

Left: Credit River down in the town. Park area to the right, was the site for the Festival.

The Festival rocked!!! Three days of blues, jazz, fusion, you name it. Buddy Guy, Downchild Blues Band, Powder Blues Band, Lighthouse, The Lincolns', Detroit Women; there were too many acts to list. Two stages featured acts from noon to midnight; and on the Saturday, we closed a main street down for the afternoon, and had over 20 acts performing spread out over 4 blocks.

Left: Downchild's Donnie Walsh and Chuck Jackson. Chuck, originator and main organizor of the Festival, is an ol' P.C. friend. I've seen 'Chuckwagon' perform many times, most notably back in the day, with Cameo Blues Band at the 'Izzy'.

Every night, there were late night jams until 3am, in some of the local watering holes. Old friends walked up to me, shaking their heads when they recognized me. When the final show was over, I was satiated by music, past the point of no return. When it was over, and the park was completely cleaned up and back to normal, it was unreal; Was it just a dream?

On the way back from the East Coast, I visited the sights around T.O., my friends and family spread out in the area. I tracked down the family homes; my grandfather's, and my two immediated families'. My original house was long gone, torn down to make way for an expressway. My home down in P.C. was still there, but, my grandfather's house had the greatest impact on me.

Left: Grandad Bill's house, the first original family home in Canada.

My Grandad Bill was a great guy. He built this house around 1919 ; he and grandma had just emigrated from England after WWI. My dad was born and grew up here, and as a child, we would visit them every Friday night. No longer alive, I missed them both as I stood in front of their modest house. Tears welled in my eyes as I walked away, overwhelmed by the memories.

Toronto is the centre hub of Canada. Known as the country's financial centre, it is also a multi-cultural mecca. As a young adult, I enjoyed great entertainment, different ethnic cultures and prosperous employment. For some, this city is not very friendly, but growing up here, I knew multitudes of people. Leaving here was difficult, when I originally moved away. Seeing old friends and family was very emotional to say the least. Although, I admit my life in T.O. was great, certain things about the city reinforced why I had left. The traffic was insane, and there were way too many people for me. There was always the ever-present 'hum' of the city, while I appreciate the quieter life.

Left: Chinatown in Toronto. It's size rivals many in the States.

Left: The original front facade of Maple Leaf Gardens.

One of the qualities of T.O. I miss the most was the entertainment. The last month, before I moved away in '83, I went to concerts like The Who, U2, Roxy Music and so on. There were lots of great pubs to see bands, like the El Macombo, the Izzy, the Gasworks, the Riverside..... The old Maple Leaf Gardens was not just a classic hockey shrine to me; it was where I saw Pink Floyd during the Dark Side of the Moon tour, the Rolling Stones, the Who, George Harrison, David Bowie, and on and on.

Left: Convocation Hall, U. of T. grounds.

Throughout my travels back east, i was engaged by appreciation for old architecture. Out West, there aren't many buildings that are over 150 years old, and many heritage building were not protected from being torn down. Not so in ol' T.O. I enjoyed walking through the University of Toronto grounds, where many old buildings are fully functional. One of my particular favourites is Convocation Hall. It is a fair size hall, holding around 500 people; it has a round floor, and is basically a upright cylinder shape, with a parabulum roof. The acoustics are amazing; I had the pleasure to see J.J.Cale and Sonny Terry/Brownie McGee perform here.

After runnin' around T.O. for 10 days, it was time to move on. I had done what I wanted to do, and I had satisfied my curiosity as to why I had moved away, 24 years ago. Although a great place, T.O. was too busy and crowded for my liking. I felt like I had paid homage to my hometown; time to journey back to BC. 'I'll be back, one day...', I told family and friends, over and over again. Hey, I am a Nomad, after all!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sentimentality Tour '07 - Eastern Canada

Left: Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island

Below: Fishing Boats in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Below left: Waterfront Montreal, Quebec

At the end of summer '07, it was time for a road trip. But, just not any road trip. One that would take me from coast-to-coast in Canada. 11,700 miles long with the side trips. $2400+ fuel cost. 2 months. The Great Sentimentality Tour '07, a country-wide road cruise!

Although, the trip was from the west coast to east coast and back again, I'm just gonna cover random thoughts from the return trip. The stimuli was overwhelming; a never ending cascade of new vistas and familiar sights.

Left: Basilica-Notre-Dame, Montreal, Quebec

The return swing started in Prince Edward Island (PEI). This island province is the smallest in Canada, with both farming and fishing communities. PEI potatoes and mussels are famous through the land; I've eaten tons of both. The island is very progressive with trying to create renewable energy sources. On many farm fields above the crops, you'll see large wind turbines creating electricity. By 2020, they project they will produce almost 30% of the power needs of the island by wind power.

Left: Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ontario

A trip to the East Coast wouldn't be complete, without recognizing the fishing heritage of this region. When John Cabot, an European explorer, first came to this area, it was said that his ship was slowed down by the fish above the Grand Banks! Although many of the fisheries have been closed due to depleted stocks, they still go out. In Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, there were fishing nets spread across the ground, being repaired and down the road, lobster traps piled high on the docks. Nothing tastes as good as fresh lobster cooked right away, with butter and plenty of beer.

In Halifax, Seamus and I paid homage to the old site of a favourite hallowed hall. For me, the Misty Moon Tavern was a 'classic' bar; I saw the Tragically Hip play here, many years ago. You could get up really close to the stage, and see everything. The locals were super-friendly, and good times were had by all. There is another bar in it's place now, but for me and others, you could never replace the Misty Moon (sigh).

Francine laughed with me over old times and drinks on a street cafe in Moncton, New Brunswick. I had to struggle with her thick accent; her heritage is a mix of French and English Canadian, so she thinks in French, and hesitates before she speaks. It was great to visit her in her homeland, for I met her originally in Jasper, Alberta (3,000 miles away). We took a side trip to the Bay of Fundy, a picturesque coastal area, and ate more lobster! Mmmm!

In Montreal, Quebec, I met up with Jenny on the Old Port waterfront. We went across to the man-made island, which was the original Expo '67 site. I had visited the exhibition, when I was nine years old, with my family. The original Habitat buildings were still there; they were a futuristic design for apartment dwellings (see photo above). It was bizarre to see them, a distinct memory from my childhood. Montreal is a vibrant and cultural city, with great restaurants and lots of entertainment. I wish I could have been there for the annual Jazz Festival. Oh, well.

To finish off the eastern portion of the trip, I visited the nations' capital, Ottawa. Butsy still lives there, and we crossed the river back over to Hull, on the Quebec side. We reminisced of how we used to party the Chaud', another former hallowed dance hall in the Eastern Townships. No kidding, this bar could hold around 1,500 people upstairs, and 400 downstairs in a separate bar. Bands would play 'til 3 or 4 in the morning, performing 5 sets, not just 3. The dance floor was huge, and we'd rip it up there, whenever I visited Butsy and crew. Those were fond memories (another sigh).

No matter where I went, I was always struck by how beautiful eastern Canada is in the late summer. There were familiar sights from my early adulthood and I got to spy many more passing by my van windows. The ability to just go wherever and whenever I felt, because I travelling in my van, was freedom to no end. To have friends, throw open their arms and homes, was humbling. Maritime hospitality is still number one in my books!

The next swing of the trip is my native homeland, Toronto and Southern Ontario. 'Bye now.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The World I live in

Sometimes, you forget to look around and see the beautiful world we live in. So, this article is going to be a little travelogue of my 'neck of the woods', the Gulf Islands of BC, Canada. These islands lie in protected waters behind Vancouver Island, from the open Pacific ocean.

The climate here is one of the mildest in Canada. If it snows, it usually melts by morning. A heat wave in the summer, may last a whole week, with highs only around 90 degrees F. No extremes, for our weather is moderated by the ocean's water. They refer to this area as a temperate rain forest, so not only are we surrounded by the ocean, we get tons of rain during the cooler half of the year. The islands are very green, lush and thickly forested, except where inhabited. Although more people have moved here, the islands are still rural in nature. Folks here try to preserve the natural beauty of the region, and most are environmentally conscious.

I've always joked that the area has it's own time zone, slo-mo. People work hard here, but, they take their time when out and about. In the main village of my home island, people always say hello, stop and talk. There is a good sense of community. For most of the year, there is a weekly market for local produced food stuffs and crafts. There are live shows with local and imported talent, in various halls and pubs. Lots of artisans live on the island, and they are several galleries and art exhibitions. The summer here is very busy, with tourists and locals mingling at various events, markets, and so on.

The islands boast many beautiful vistas to enjoy. Small farms still exist here, and the land is kinda 'hill and dale'. You usually are going up or down, even if you travel a short distance. There are hiking trails, hidden little beaches and lakes; lots of natural beauty to enjoy. The ocean is at our doorstep, with yachts, kayaks and fishing boats plying the local waters.

The main reason I live on Coastal BC, is the 'lay of the land'. I've got ocean and mountains, cities and wilderness, forests and concrete jungles; all within a short distance from each other. It is my favourite region in Canada to live, and as long as I live in Canada, this is where I'll be. Even though I'm still a Nomad, this is the region I will eventually settle. 'Cuz in my heart and soul, I'm an Islander.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


On the Vandweller's forum lately, there has been a lot of talk about security. People have asked a lot about how to defend themselves, when out on the road. When you are living in a van, you are 'out' there, and I believe due diligence is wise. If you take care, you should be able to enjoy vandwelling, without living in fear of what might happen.

I grew up in a big city. That taught me there are lots of people, you don't want anything to do with. I developed a sense of what I call, 'street smarts'. It's a mode, or set of behaviour skills, that show strangers that I don't take 'crap', but, I don't instigate anything either. I move through 'bad' areas of the city with 'purpose'; I don't portray myself as a 'potential' victim. I minimize my time when spent in these 'down and out' areas, and I don't leave my van unattended for very long.

When you are sleeping in your van, you are vulnerable. So, I take extra care. I don't night park in urban areas of frequent or violent crimes, such as industrial or 'skid row' sections of the city. I park in urban suburbs, where there are lots of people around, and lots of more expensive cars than my van on the road. This minimizes the chance of someone bothering me, or breaking into my vehicle to steal the vehicle or contents.

I thought about having a weapon, like a hunting knife, or bear spray. But, if you introduce a weapon into a conflict, you better hang onto it, because it can be taken from you and used against you. I believe in other modes of defense. For example, most thieves are gutless. If someone is breaking into your van, confront them with an angry stream of profanity and they will probably flee. When passing a potential mugger on the street, if you portray that you are not an easy mark, they will usually leave you alone. But, the best defense is to not be in those areas in the first place, to minimize chance encounters with 'bad' people.

Obviously, I lock my doors, when asleep. Even in the country-side. Not for just protection from humans, but from curious bears and cougars, which are common in the woods of BC, Canada. If these animals are hungry, they aren't afraid of nothin'. Just because you are out in the country, doesn't mean an asshole might try something. So, I keep my awareness level up; again, I protect myself from being a victim. Choosing your campsite wisely, out of sight and out of mind, can save you a lot of unwanted attention.

When dealing with strangers, I trust my 'gut' instincts. I am wary of dangerous situations and act defensibly when appropriate. For example, when I see someone broken down on the road, I pull over and call out to them from inside my van, with the engine running. That way, if any shenanigans begin, you just drive away.

Although I keep alert, I don't live my life in constant fear. I conduct myself in a relaxed awareness, minimizing hazards. My 'street smarts' mode, a kind of a passive-aggressive behaviour, doesn't create any unnecessary conflicts, but avoids them. I've talked my way out of several 'sticky' spots, slipping away unscathed. I believe avoiding conflict, by conducting yourself wisely in the first place, is the best possible defense.

"The clever man solves a problem, the wise man avoids it." - Author unknown.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Well, I'm out of the big city. Goin' to the country-side for a spell. Goin' back to live on a little island, before moving into the medium-size city, on the big island.

For the next while, three months or so, I'm going to live and work on one of the Gulf Islands. This group of islands is close to Vancouver Island, across the Strait of Georgia from the Mainland. Yup, back to being an Islander again. I have some family and work commitments, and I want to do some renovations on 'Aero', my van.

It's always an adjustment, living on a island, 20 miles long by 10 miles wide. I mean, it's really cool, a mixture of nature and people, but for me, it's small. I lived here before, and there is only so many nooks and crannies to explore. As a Nomad, I love open roads that lead away to remote wilderness, those unpopulated beaches and lakes, quiet valleys and majestic mountain ranges. When I'm here on the little island, I can't just go anytime; I have to wait and pay for the ferry to shuttle me over to the open road. I know it sounds trivial, but I feel stifled somehow, and sometimes, it really effects me.

Fortunately, I am going to be very busy. I have two houses to do renovations on, for my folks and a neighbor's home. Some painting, finish carpentry, odds and sods, whatever it takes. My folks need my help in their personal life, and I'm going to be closer for a long time. They are both elderly, and I'm making sure they are comfortable and safe, helping with their home and affairs.

'Aero' is going to get an interior makeover. Although, I've had a platform bed in the back for a long time, I think I'm going to put in a plywood floor, and put in a higher and better-built platform. I want to create better privacy panels for the windows, etc. I'll have some how-to articles, as well, some articles showing my methods for vanliving. Usually, I like to be rather bare-bones in my approach, but, lately, I've been wanting a creature feature or two.

Oh, yeah, the big law suit should be very soon. Earlier in my blog, I talked about the constitutional lawsuit against the anti-camping bylaws, which is the main reason for hiding my identity. For a few years now, the numbers of the homeless on foot, have been climbing quickly. They started camping in city parks, in the larger cities, using tents or whatever to protect themselves. Well, that didn't work for the authorities and the 'establishment', so they evoked anti-camping bylaws, and an ancient 'chatteral' bylaw. Even though these folks had nowhere to go, with the city shelter's capacity already overwhelmed by 10 to 1, the cities criminalized the homeless. To make matters worse, the 'chatteral' law, allowed the police to seize bed rolls, tents and backpacks, from the helpless 'offenders'. Nice, eh, nothin' like kicking a poor soul, when their down and out.

Well, the homeless got some pro-bono lawyers, and are taking the cities, the province and the country to Supreme Court, on a Constitutional lawsuit. The anti-camping law, is apparently in contradiction to our Charter of Rights, which is kinda like the US Constitution. If the homeless win, it will set a common law premise, which will apply in all jurisdictions, throughout our country. If you need to sleep 'outdoors' in a public park, due to financial or other hardship, the authorities will be powerless to stop you, unless they provide an alternative, like a proper tent city.

How does this affect you and me, as vandwellers? Well, if the cops roust you at night, they probably just get you to move on. But, the authorities consider us to be vehicular homeless, so in some cases, they have found vandwellers, both north and south of the border, to be breaking the anti-camping laws in those jurisdictions. In my area, if these laws are stuck down, it will lessen their authority, and increase our personal freedom. Maybe this will force the authorities to recognize that vehicular dwelling is an option, that could be supported like they do in a program in Santa Barbera, CA (see blog entry, 1/09/'08). We'll see.....

Anyways, that's all for today. I'll step off my soapbox, and get back to my tinkerin'. Bye, now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Network

"Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends..." excerpt, Beatles' song.

I'm a lucky guy. I have friends and family, spread out across this large country. It is an informal network, for which I have appreciation and gratitude. For some crazy reason, lol, they put up with me. Maybe because I always give more than I receive. Maybe because if they need help, I am there. My family have always been my best friends in the world, despite the usual difference of opinion. If you are my true friend, your my friend for life, period. That's the foundation of my network.

A strong network is based on relationships, and it takes time to build a relationship.

When you live in a van, you are out there. I vandwell in a Ford Aerostar, so, it's not really disposed to 'cocooning' in, like a regular home. You begin to appreciate dropping over to a friend's place, to watch the game, have a beer and slice. You are grateful, you can go jam on the weekend at your friend's studio, where you store guitars and gear. You enjoy seeing your folks, to cook dinner while doing laundry and later, tinker on the van.

And I appreciate, they are always glad to see me. ;-)

When it comes to work opportunities, my network are my eyes and ears beyond my horizon. They hear about great job leads, commitments and contracts, that I may have never known. One of my friends is an employment councillor; she guides me sagely, and is impressed by my extensive network.

Regarding job choices, everyone you know probably has an opinion of what you should be doing. Most of the time, you don't want to hear about it. But, if your stuck, it doesn't hurt to listen. They know about your strengths, abilities, limitations and reputation. They are familiar with your past, probably enough to consider what might work for you or perhaps suggest something you would never consider.

Volunteer work lets you help others, but, it also lets you help yourself. When doing volunteering, you'll be expanding your network, usually with an entirely new group of people. For example, I am a member of the Royal Canadian Legion. I've done both volunteer and paid work with them. There are Legions across the country, where I'm welcome to drop in. I meet local people of all walks of life, and quite often get offers for casual labour or renovation work. It helps them get someone they trust, and it helps me find work.

Some of my network are ex-bosses or fellow workin' buds. They are always ready to give me a 'heads up' on the local scene, keeping me in the 'loop'. Somebody once told me, 90% of jobs are never posted in the paper or online. I believe it, because I've lost count on how many jobs I received, through personal recommendations.

I bask in the hospitality of my friends and family. I sift the trickle of confidential job offers, picking out the gems. When you are a Nomad, it's nice to get by with the help of friends.....

Saturday, January 19, 2008


"Freedom, give it to me,
That's what I need now..
Freedom to live,
Freedom, so I can give...." - excerpt, Jimi Hendrix song.

Freedom, the siren's song for the Nomad. For half my life, I've been a Nomad, seeking my desired existance, while luxuriating in freedom. Free to choose when and where I live or work, because I have no permanent ties, anchoring me down. Free.

Most of us probably watched our parents' generation, live and toil the majority of their lives, indentured to the consumerate system. They graduated from school, got a good job, got married and bought a house, then spent 20 or more years paying it off. They didn't have the freedom to quit a job, or move to a different area easily. The house and other commitments tied them down to the rut, they had signed up for.

I tried to follow in my dad's footsteps. I went to university, studied engineering, while working as a draftsman in Toronto, ON. But, memeries of the ocean, mountains, skiing and adventuring, tugged on me. I looked around the huge office where my cubicle was just one of many, where the banks of flourescant standards, bathed me in a sickly excuse for light. I decided then and there, this would not be my life for the next 30 years.

Since I've been a Nomad, I've lived and worked, in many towns and cities of British Columbia and Alberta. Jasper, Banff, Lake Louise, Kelowna, Penticton, Whistler, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver, Victoria, Sooke. I've enjoyed years of living in all of them. I've travelled to Europe, Central America, the Caribean, New Zealand and Australia. I've logged numerous 100+ day winter ski seasons, 100+ day summer mountain biking and fishing seasons. I've enjoyed many road trips, into the States and across Canada; last year, my Sentimentality Tour '07, took me coast-to-coast of my beautiful homeland.

You can't do that if you have a mortgage, that you struggle to pay off. You can't take months off to travel any time you want to, when under the burden of such a huge debt. Sure, I haven't had my own house, yet, but look at the life I've lived. The world at large has been my home, and I have no regrets of my path.

Vandwelling further serves this purpose. Instead of wasteing money on rent, while working commitments in different places, you save even more money. You can work less, travel more, have more free time, whatever you want. I have no debts, only savings. Your personal freedom has grown exponentially, because you have ability to get up and go, at a moment's notice. If things aren't working out in one place, just leave. Turn the key and drive!

Happy Trails!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Zen of Urban Stealth Parking

For myself, the most challenging part of my urban vandwelling day, is parking for sleep at night. Parking restrictions, police and nosey homeowners are obstacles to deal with. Everyone will have their own experiences, but, I'm going to share my routine.

The first factor that will determine where you park is the type of van you use, ie. mini or passenger van, cargo van, cube or box van, RV or camper van. I think that your vehicle should blend in with the area you park, that it looks like it belongs there. For example, I use a 'soccer-mom' minivan, so it parks easily and looks right in place in an urban suburb neighborhood. No one gives it a second glance, which is what I desire. No undue attention. If I tried to sleep in a RV on the same street, the cops would be banging on the door in no time.

I drive around during my daily routine. I go to work, I picnic at different parks, I hang out in different places; where and when I park at night, it's only for sleeping. Before I go to a night sleep spot, I am prepared and ready to do just that. When I park my van, I try to minimize the lines of sight from houses, so hopefully, they can't watch me getting in and out of the 'back'. My van has all the privacy panels up and my bed is prepared to jump right in. I don't get out of my van, I just quickly slip into bed, when I think no one will notice. Because of prying eyes, I don't want to give anyone a clue that I am sleeping there, so, I try to minimize any moving around or noise, I just read a little and fall off to sleep. In the morning, I take a quick peak around to see if anyone might notice, then, I get in the front and drive away.

I generally go to bed around 10 pm, and get up around 6am. Most people are getting dozy that late in the evening, and they usually aren't up or wide awake that early in the morning. That way I slip in and out, of any particular street 'block', usually undetected. If someone notices my van in the evening, I'm already gone first thing in the morning, so they forget about it. I also don't use the same block, night after night; I don't like to go back again to the exact same block for at least a month. That way, I don't become a focal point for any concerned, blockwatching citizens. I like urban 'blocks', that have most of the houses, split up into apartments; in those areas, there are lots of people coming and going, and lots of vehicles parked in the street. Perfect for my style of night parking.

Although this routine is really a lot of effort, it becomes second nature after a while. In these areas, I feel safe with people around, and my van blends in with lots of parked vehicles, reducing the possibility of someone wanting to break in or steal it. It's usually pretty quiet at night, but, in the city you are going to have some noise; you get used to it.

Sometimes, I utilize a parking lot. I know of two pay parking lots ($2 fee, 6pm to 8am), where there is no night time attendant, they are fairly safe, and you can get in and out, 24 hours a day. Walmarts in this area, still allow overnight parking, good for a occasional night. Sometimes a shopping mall, with no overnight parking restrictions, can be used carefully. But, because there is little or no other vehicles around at night in most lots, I feel you stick out like a sore thumb. A target for thieves or cops/security to hassle you.

On the weekends, I'm gone out of the central city area, to go adventuring or visit family and friends, parking in their driveway, etc. When I return to work, I drive into the city on Monday morning, so I usually only have to stealth park four nights a week.

Whenever night parking, I use my 'gut' feelings, when judging a potential spot. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't, so go somewhere else. There are so many choices, and it's usually easy to find a better one, just down the road.

A Future Neighborhood

Lots of stealth night parking, and lots of picnic areas. All within five miles of potential employment, health clubs, etc. Good stuff!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Art of the Turnaround

No, it's not some modeling catwalk technique, or odd ball driving move. When your out in the wide world, you're bound to meet someone who wants to impose their self-perceived authority and/or superiority on you. The 'turnaround', is when you calmly walk away from them, head held high as they realize they were wrong. For anyone, this technique is useful for dealing with cops or nosey-parkers.

A couple of weeks ago, I was parked on a rather busy urban suburb street. I went to sleep with no incident, but first thing in the morning, I was approached by the house owner, across the street from my parking spot. I could see that he wasn't in the mood for social niceties. Damn, I hate dealing with clowns before my morning coffee. OK, I had to remind myself, what would Gandhi do now.....

"Excuse me, hey, excuse me...." he threw at me, scurrying my way. "Morning, Can I help you?" I calmly replied. Puffing and obviously ready to tear a strip off me,"Did you sleep here last night! Huh!", he accused me. He started going off on this tangent, how I didn't have the right, and that he should phone the cops, etc. I listened to his verbal diarrhea, replying calmly and politely, slowing disarming his stance. I wanted to confront him, but that would only prolong his tirade. I did reply though, pointing out that I didn't want to drive when exhausted, and that I had slept longer than I meant. That I hadn't done anyone on the street any harm or nuisance, and as far as the cops were concerned, they would just tell me to move on, which I was already doing. His self-imposed power shrank against my polite, calm and measured replies.

But, although I just wanted to leave, I decided I wanted this idiot to feel like the dumbass he truly was. I looked for the weak point in his armor, listening to his simpering drivel while seeming to commiserate with him. Then I noticed it.

Defense, counter-attack, parry, lunge! Got him!

"That's a Legion pin, isn't it?" I queried, pointing at this lapel. "What's that to you!" He gruffly replied. I formally introduced myself as a fellow Legion member, stating my name, branch location, and that I also did volunteer work there. He shut his cake hole up, while he realized that he had stepped in his own shit. You see Legion members are supposed to be community-minded, you know, conduct themselves like a Good Samaritan. To anyone. I further strengthened my position with Legion small-talk.

I enjoyed a peculiar pleasure, watching this guy's face wince, while his balls shrank to the size of two frozen peas.

"I got to go.." I countered, as I made ready to leave. "Hey, listen.." He said. "You can park here anytime. No harm done, right." "No, I wouldn't want to impose on this nice neighborhood." I politely replied. As I drove away, a big grin spread across my face.

All this took place in only five minutes or so. The 'turnaround' worked like a charm. Later that day, I met up with Jenny. I still had flashes of the same grin on my face. A good day, all and all. I got to put clownboy in his place, and I got the girl! Sometimes, ya' just can't do no wrong.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

RV/Van Racing

A Honourable Ending to your RV or Van!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Go Green, Be a Vandweller

I know. Sounds like a contradiction; driving a gas guzzlin' van, how could you even consider yourself an environmentalist. Hear me out.

From the forums, etc., it seems that most of us vandwellers drive older vans, which we have refurbished into useful and efficient machines. In other words, we have 'recycled' and are 'reusing', vehicles that were probably a few years away from the wreckers. By decreasing the need for another new vehicle to be produced, we eliminate the manufacturing, mining and all processes involved.

Although, we drive vehicles that don't have the best fuel economy, I find my driving routines allow me to just as 'green', as most auto commuters. Daily, the average car owner drives, around 17 miles to work, 17 miles back home, and maybe, an extra 6 miles for shopping, etc. That adds up to 40 miles driven per workday. Because I am mobile, and don't commute from a fixed place (suburban stick house, etc.), I can decrease my work commute, by simply changing my neighborhood. I get all my daily 'needs' within a 10 miles radius area, so my workday driving usually adds up to only 20 to 25 miles.

Man-made hothouse gases are considered the prime cause for global warming. Various hothouse gases are CO2, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, unburnt hydrocarbons and methane. I know they all contribute to the problem, but, CO2 is by far the major pollutant.

My understanding about vehicular sourced CO2 production goes something like this; if someone knows better, please correct me and I will edit or erase this premise. As long as your vehicle utilizes a catalytic converter, when you burn a gallon of gasoline, you create a specific amount of CO2 (approx. 20 lbs. per gallon). So, your resultant CO2 production is not based on how new your car is, or the MPG rating, but, how much volume of gas you burn daily, weekly, etc.

Because my personal driving routine involves less miles driven, I generally use the same or less gasoline than the average commuter, even though my MPG rating is lower. Hence, my CO2 production, is the same or significantly less. But, that's not the big payoff!

Since, I live in my van, I don't have a conventional home (house, condo, apartment...). For me, that home doesn't have to be built, or heated, resulting in a huge net personal reduction in hot house gases and natural resources. I don't have to fill a home with stuff (furniture etc.), again a net reduction of pollutants created. I have a simplified lifestyle, with less needs and less overall resultant pollution.

When I plug my numbers into carbon footprint calculators, I usually come out passing with flying colours. I realize that these calculators are not very accurate, generalizing a lot of factors. But, at least they all confirm, I create way less than the US per capita average of 40 tonnes of CO2 per year! I usually drive 13,000 miles per year; if I could reduce that figure, I would even be 'greener'.

Unfortunately, for vehicle engine systems, there doesn't seem to be any affordable alternatives available, so the basic 3R's still apply. Recycle, Reduce and Reuse. Using internal combustion of fossil fuels, is a 'dinosaur' technology from the last century and should go the way of the dinosaur. As long as we resist change, there's only so much we can do.

Of all the new automobile advances, there is only one that makes sense to me. Check out: Google "the air car", and see the video on YouTube. It's a beginning!

ed.note - Some folks emailed me about this article, chiding me for inferring I was trying to be a 'no impact' man. All I'm trying to do, is be a 'lower impact' man.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Home, My Van

When I first got my Aerostar, I wasn't planning to live in it. It was going to my mini RV, a portable pup-tent. You know, something to go camping for the weekend, and for extended road trips. Little did I know! While up in Whistler, a couple of years back, vandwelling was the thing to do, so 'Aero' became my home.

Most vandwellers usually find a mini-van too small for their needs, but, I have adapted to the compact space. I would define my home on wheels, as a mobile sleeping pod, with adequate storage. I don't cook food in the van; I tailgate and picnic in public parks. I don't wash up in the van; I shower and shave at a convenient rec centre. Working full-time and taking off on the weekends, I don't really hang out in my van, more kinda around it. During the midweek evenings, I'm either visiting friends, going to the gym, library, cheap night at the movies, the pub, and so on. On the weekends, I usually visit my folks, or friends, specially Dave's cabin in Whistler, or jam at Eric's studio in Sooke.

I really only stealth sleep or drive around in the van. The weather here is very temperate, so it doesn't really get cold in the winter (usual lows, 4 degrees C or 39 degrees F), or very hot in the summer (usual highs, 27 degrees C or 77 degrees F). So, it's mellow, no real extremes. This allows me to live comfortably, out of doors most of the time, which a mini-van will force you to do. My mini-van parks easily on congested city streets.

If I lived in a colder climate or wanted more of a compact bed-sitting space, I would definitely go with a nicely setup, full size van. Most vandwellers seem to choose a full size van. When I move to the next city, which is less congested, I'm gonna be thinking a lot about up scaling to a Ford E-series van, for example. You could hang out more comfortably inside, have more storage, etc. We are all different folks with varying routines, wants, needs, and climate, so what works for me, will be different for you. Camper vans, motor homes and cube vans, aren't a option for me. I want reasonable fuel economy, and for me, the ability to stealth park is too limited with these vehicles. However, if I was mostly out in the countryside, they could be an excellent option.

When buying a vehicle, leftover lifespan, mechanical condition, and affordability are prime considerations. I like buying vehicles with less than 100,000 miles, which have been maintained well, and are cheap as possible. I bought my Aerostar for $1,500, with 76K on the odometer, plus spent a extra grand for some glass work, brakes, tuneup and new battery. Vans make an expensive lawn ornament, and the urban parking nazis don't like vehicles that are stationary. I always keep my vehicle it top mechanical condition, for safety and reliability. The Aerostar is still a very common vehicle; new and used parts are readily available, and a lot of mechanics are familiar with them. Also, my 'Aero' gets around 20% better fuel economy than a full size van.

Take your time before you spend your hard earned cash. It took me some searching to find out what I wanted, and get a good deal. Read the forum on Vandwellers Yahoo Group, check out my links to Vandweller's Den, CheapRVLiving, Hobo Stripper & CarLiving, for wise and sage advice by experienced vanners. Talk to trustworthy mechanics and experienced couriers. They'll tell you what's good, and which vehicles to avoid.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Money and Common Sense

"Money, get away; Get a good job with good pay and your OK..." excerpt Pink Floyd song.

The fact is, that in present times, the statement above doesn't ring true. The average working persons' annual income, in my area, is approx. $25K. Meanwhile, the average one bedroom apartment annual rent is $8.4K. Resulting with the average working person spending 34% of their gross income, or 42% of the after-tax dollars, just for shelter.

That means the average workin' stiff, according to the government's own definitions, lives in core-housing need, that being they spend more than 30% of their income for rent. Also, almost 25% of the area's working people, make less than $13K gross income, so it would cost them 65% or more, of their income for housing. Is it no wonder that people are doubling up in apartments, moving back in with parents, or creating innovative housing methods. As well, new building of rental properties has been on a long decline for decades, resulting in low supply and inferior quality units.

This was the crux of the matter for me. If you could even find an apartment you wanted to live in, you had to pay at least $700 monthly for rent, if not, $800 ($9.6K/yr.) or $900 ($10.8K/yr). That's a lot of after-tax dollars! Then you want to fill the place with furniture, put in TV/computer feed, and so on. No wonder people's money seems to evaporate.

That's if you can get an apartment. When I moved back to Whistler a while back, there was no accomodation available. A one-bedroom apartment did rent for $800/mo., but, there were none available. Period. Lots of jobs, but no accomodation. Hmm. That's when vandwelling, first really provided a solution for me. I didn't really want to commit to the area anyway, I was only there for six months. I could save most of the I would have spent on rent, except for a rec centre fee ($50/mo.), for getting cleaned up and recreation. It was a large savings, resulting in an extra $4K in my bank account!

When I moved back to the big city, similar story. There were apartments available, for around $800/mo., usually run down and in sketchy areas. Did I really want that? No! So, I joined another health club, began to stealth vandwell in nice neighborhoods, work full-time and bank cash. I have a nice budget, so I can afford mobility, healthy food, health insurance, recreation and entertainment; and still save money. It seems to come down to this:

1/ Spend the cash to rent an apartment.
2/ Or by vandwelling, have the cash available for a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.

You tell me, which choice makes common sense.

There's an old tenet of economy, which goes something like, 'Live within your means'. That's what I'm doin'. ;-)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Check this out! It's a short clip, about Santa Barbara, CA, having a Safe Parking Program for the RV homeless. Click on this :,0,2016826.flash?coll=la-home-center

This is great! I recently read that Eugene, OR, has a similar program, as well. Now, if only other cities, can open their eyes and hearts, to explore creative and imaginative solutions to the housing crisis.

My style of urban vandwelling, would fit right in with this program, 'cus I just need a parking spot for the night. If the cost was reasonable, I would even pay! For the most part, I am self-contained in my van, utilizing public and private facilities properly, for all my 'out of van' needs.

If only...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Lord, the urbanity of it all

The stigma... sounds like a b-grade horror movie.

For quite a while, I've been reading posts from the VanDwellers group, about the 'stigma', attached to vandwelling and/or vandwellers. There are posts about 'getting beyond the stigma', 'van dwellers advocate', 'guests of the opposite gender' and 'bad day for van dwellers'. They are all legitimate concerns for us all, but, do they really warrant that much concern.

As a 'stealth' vandweller, I guess I have a different modus operandi. I apologize in advance to all the VanDwellers, who are upfront about their lifestyle of vandwelling. I envy you. Unfortunately, the draconian anti-camping bylaws in this area, force me to vandwell incognito. I just want to live my life, as I choose, free to live and let live. With 'Big Brother' roaming around the net these days, I feel compelled to stealth write this blog! More stigma, I guess.

From all the comments, blogs, and the net group, I perceive our 'subculture' to be intelligent, intuitive, imaginative, creative, adventurous, generous, conservational, humorous, industrious and, for the most part, law-abiding citizens. Why people or society, wouldn't want to know us or let us join them, is beyond me.

It's up to us to express ourselves, by our nature, behavior and individuality, that we don't deserve their derision or prejudice. I've decided to place people into two categories, based on a 'need to know' basis. When dealing with individuals, until they become a personal confidant, I don't really think they 'need to know' about my unique lifestyle. What difference does it make to them? None. Do I hurt anybody by my private lifestyle? Not that I could think of. Is it really any of their business? I don't think so. Could them knowing about my vandwelling, complicate my life? Quite possibly! So, why go there!

My family and close friends, don't have any problems with vandwelling, in fact, they are very supportive and an important network. But, living in a van and wooing the 'fairer sex', requires diplomacy and tact. I believe you need to be honest and portray yourself fairly. But, until a potential date shows some interest, why play your 'cards' too early. I say, let 'em to get to know you a little bit first, before you become the 'nomad'. Actually, I've found most woman enjoy the humour and playfulness of my path. ;-)

The issues, touched by 'van dweller advocate', deserve caution and vigilance. As far as vandwelling advocacy goes, there is a landmark constitutional law suit in my country, about the discriminatory, urban anti-camping bylaws. The provincial capital and province have been remanding the case, but the courts have deemed, that the case must be heard soon, around January 22nd or so. The outcome is not only critical to the 'homeless', but also to us vandwelling nomads. I'll try to keep you informed of current updates.

As far as, 'bad day for van dwellers', what are you gonna' do? All we can do is deal with individuals, as they cross our path; show them we aren't the demons, that the media has portrayed us to be. I hope all goes well for you, in these trying times.

p.s If anyone finds my position or thoughts to be offensive, again, I apologise.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Road Trip

"On the road agin', I'm always on the road again..." excerpt, Willie Nelson song.

The magical words every Nomad loves to hear. Road trip... Last year, as the BC 'non-summer' of '07 was winding down, I decided it was long overdue. Road trip... But not just any road trip. A good road trip! Hell, no, a great road trip!!? The Great Canadian Road Trip: -Coast-to-Coast- 'Sentimentality Tour' 07. ;-)

Why? 'Cuz. What for? When you get close to 50, you get sentimental about friends, family, places you've been and places you've always meant to go to. These places and people are spread out across the country, in many little nooks and crannies; flying is not an option. Plus, you gotta' be 'mental' to drive by yourself, 11,700 miles (18,837 km.). When? Sept. and Oct. '07. How? Vandwell with 'Aero', paid for with funds saved by vandwelling in 'Aero'. Road trip...

My planned itinerary was as follows:
1/ Leave BC coast, a.s.a.p Sept' 07 - Head East on the 'Beaten Path' ( Trans-Canada Hwy.)
2/ Be in Port Credit, ON - for Blues Festival, Buddy Guy headlining.
3/ Turn around in Halifax, NS - Go Back West on the 'Beaten Path'
4/ Get back to BC coast, end of Oct'07

No hotel/motel rooms booked, no ferry reservations, just phone calls or emails to people along the way. If they are there when I'm coming through, great; if not, no problem, I'll catch you on the return trip. Cell phone for communications. Of course, the trip route was planned with maps, both online and with BCAA paper ones. Just pack and go!!

The trip was amazing! Freedom on the road, set the cruise control and watch the world roll by. I visited James / Darlene in Calgary; Kennie in Winnipeg; John / Marie in Thunder Bay; Charlene in Schribner; Janie in Sault Ste. Marie; Steve in Elliot Lake; Pat in Minden; Merl / Eugene / and at least 30 more in Port Credit, my hometown; Uncle Bob / Auntie Jeannie in Fergus; Uncle Tony/ Auntie Margie in Maple; Uncle Ted / Auntie Joan in Stouffville; Johnnie in Toronto; Jennifer in Montreal; Seamus and Cindy in Halifax; Doug in Banff; Thomas in Jasper; Al in Lone Butte; Dave in Whistler; and so on.

What did I see? What didn't I see. Canada is a beautiful country, coast-to-coast. I could fill pages with my trip, but for now, I'm just gonna' mention a few highlights. The Blues Festival in Port Credit was a gas! I knew people both on and off stage. I was drafted to work the festival, by the end of my first beer off the road. Watching Buddy Guy do his show, from 15 feet away dead centre in front of 9,000 people plus, was like a dream. Unplanned, but stunning! To see bands like Downchild Blues, Powder Blues, The Lincolns, Lighthouse, after all these years, was downright spiritual! Every night at the Legion, were late night open jams with stars, locals, and new talent, mixing it up 'til the wee hours of the morn'. When the wrap-up party for the organizers and volunteers, was finally ending after 3 1/2 days of continuous music, action, dancing, hustlin', we were beat. Next day, when the main stage, beer tents, and fencing were all gone before we got there to do final cleanup, it was unreal, like a dream. Did it actually happen? My friend, Merl, laughed," So you gonna come next year, for the 10th anniversary. The rumour is, we might get the Allmon Brothers, to headline."

Buddy Guy in my hometown, Port Credit

There were surprises and memories, happiness and sorrow, a very emotional trip. Seeing my grandfather's house in Mount Dennis brought tears to my eyes; Grandad Bill was a great guy. When seeing all my old hometown friends, it was like picking up where we left off, without missing a beat. Both Port Credit and Jasper are still two of the friendliest places I know. After 24 hours in Jasper, I was hung over from a house party/jam, with folks I met the night before, having coffee at their table, when Thomas, a long-lost friend, comes walkin' in. The last leg of the trip, four days in Whistler, was anti-climatic, relaxing up at the ol' cabin with Dave. It just never ended, twists and turns; guess I'll have to do it again, some day.

All of the above, was made possible by vandwelling. In a era of financial difficulty, it's great to find a simple solution to provide freedom, pleasure and experiences.

"On the road agin', I'm can't wait to git on the road agin'..."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rebirth of a Vandweller

"They call me the Seeker; I've been searchin', lo' and hi'..." - excerpt, The Who song.

About two years ago, I started wanting a van. I missed the freedom of Waldo, the Magic VW Bus; how, I could go camping, visiting, travelling with ease and economy. The VW vans had in the meantime become a rather expensive option, and being frugal in nature, not an option. After looking at lots of vans, I decided to go with something domestic, reasonable fuel economy and serviceability, and commonplace. Although I wasn't buying the van for urban stealth, I like vehicles that blend in, that don't stick out as a target for thieves and joyriders. Hence, after considering the Chevy Astro, I went with a Ford Aerostar. I thought about full-size vans, but at that time, fuel economy was a priority, and I really wasn't thinking about full-time vandwelling, more of a mini-RV.

I took the Aerostar out for some nice road trips; one extended trip across Canada, for 2 months and 11,700 miles was particularily great. When visiting friends and family, I had my own bedroom, if necessary. I started reading blogs and web groups about vandwelling, and started appreciating the concept. Practical, efficent, convenient, opportunistic, economic - a lifestyle option, which mirrored many of my desirable personal themes for living.

My first vandwelling period was living and working in Whistler, BC, Canada. Whistler is known as a world class ski resort, but, it is also a small city, with full-time work opportunities, year-round. I had already lived there for five years, so I have an extensive network, both social and workworld. Although there is plenty of employment, accomodation is extremely limited and very expensive. Stealth vandwelling provided a convenient solution, for a work contract from April to October '06. I showered at friends', the Rec Centre, or jumped in a lake; I cooked at friends' and tailgated; I parked whereever. Eventually, I got a steady campspace on private property, in exchange for some labour.

Since, I didn't want to stay in Whistler for the winter, I headed back to the big city, down on the coast. I found accomodation to be very expensive, around $800 - $900 per month for a basic one-bedroom apartment. After paying no rent for quite a while, I wasn't too thrilled with that idea. So, I just modified my vandwelling routines to suit.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Here we go! A New Year

I'm happy the Holidays are over! No more hustle or bustle, just the steady cruise of everyday life. It's finally time to get this blog together.

The title of this blog states, 'The Urban Vandweller'. But, I haven't said much about that yet, so here goes. I live on coastal BC, Canada, in and out of the cities. I know I haven't given out my name or any photographs of me, but, I have a reason. You see, we have a large homeless population, and the local city governments are trying to create unconstitutional laws to prohibit them sleeping outside in parks or public spaces. I feel it is only a matter of time, that they turn their attention to the folks that sleep in their vehicles. I don't want to be categorized, marginalized, specified, mandated, legislated, licensed or singled out for any type of bureaucratic attention. I just want to do my thing! Live and let live.

Hence, my main reason for stealth. Secondly, the security aspect of stealth has become important, due to theft and random violence. I've never been paranoid before, but the clowns are becoming prevalent and emboldened. Drugs and desperation are never a good combination, resulting in a very negative effect in a lot of North American cities. So, let's share experiences to help everyone.

Many of the online community speak of the 'stigma' attached to vandwelling (to the unenlightened, read 'homeless'), like we are incapable of affording an apartment, or not able to hard work or support ourselves or whatever. What a load of crap! We are just different, and we live the way we choose. Modern reality has provided us an option; an unique lifestyle to enjoy. I am fortunate that in BC, there are many open-minded people, that accept vandwelling, as an interesting and nomadic lifestyle.

There are excellent reasons for urban vandwelling. First, financial. If you work somewhat, you can afford an apartment, or an vehicle. If you work hard or you make good money, you can afford both. But, do you always want to just make enough to pay your bills. Wouldn't it be great to afford travelling or save money for whatever.

Second, lifestyle flexibility. Even though I spend most of my time in the city, I take off every weekend to rural areas; to visit friends and family, for recreation and exploration, for peace of mind, and so on. With home being your van, you never have to pack - just point and turn the key! LUV IT!

Third, an experiment. Huh? Global warming, voluntary simplicity, rampant consumerism, and the lack of worldwide conservation, are major concerns for me. What could I do to change my life to begin to address some of these issues? Hmmm. I'll live in an mobile space with a 50 square foot floor, minimize my belongings, which for the most part are recycled, and use a significantly smaller amount of energy, less than the average North American consumer.
Just some random thoughts to be explored on this blog. Later....