Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Next Experiment

by Skald

Currently I'm living in Bangkok, Thailand but recently I've begun to reflect on the past two "hobopoet" experiments in America. One was in a 1986 Nissan Sentra, in which I lived for six months. I did this in Athens, Georgia,.. which is a fairly friendly place for homeless people. Although I had two police encounters, they were as pleasant as such encounters can be. The police were very polite. In fact, my first encounter took place a week after the start of the experiment... I was sleeping in my Nissan and had it parked in an abandoned lot under a tree. After they ran my license, they asked me what I was doing. I was honest and said I was living in my car and needed a place to park and asked them for advice. To my surprise they were friendly and suggested marked, unmetered parking spots downtown... so long as I cleared out by business hours.

My other experiment took place in Gainesville, Georgia and was far (FAR!!!) less pleasant. While Athens is a progressive college town, Gainesville is still pretty much a right-wing redneck enclave. When I first started the experiment, I had long hair. I was pulled over twice for bogus reasons (crooked license plate was one of them!!) just so they could harass me a bit. I shaved my head soon after and was never pulled over again. I also paid careful attention to stealth. In Athens, in the Nissan, I was very obvious. Anyone who passed by could see the plywood bunk I'd made. At night I put burlap curtains on the windows... again, hardly stealthy. Yet I was never bothered.

But in Gainesville I lived in the van and took all of the stealth precautions mentioned in previous posts. Although living "homeless" in Gainesville was far from pleasant, I did learn alot about how to do so while maintaining a very low profile.

So the question is, what's the next step. For one, I'm thinking that a totally inconspicuous vehicle is needed. This would probably be some sort of super-common mini-van.... of the soccer mom variety. In fact, I'd probably slap a soccer sticker on it just to be sure. I'd tint the windows and do all the other "stealth" techniques mentioned earlier. And as I mentioned in a recent post... I'd pay much more attention to soundproofing. To be sustainable, such a living arrangement has to be not only livable, but comfortable.

Another thing I would do would be to insulate the vehicle--- with foam, bubble wrap, or even housing insulation (which would require a set of inner walls to keep the fiberglass sealed up). I'd also do a better job of wiring... would probably use two extra marine batteries for power.... and wire them to the vehicles electrical system with good quality automotive wiring.

As for parking: The ideal situation is to have a private place to park... I've thought about searching for an empty lot to rent for super cheap.... or even about buying a really cheap lot in some rural area outside Athens. This is not as easy as it should be, however, as it seems that land that is cheap by the acre is almost always sold in large amounts.... and most small plots are in developed areas and are expensive (and subject to zoning scrutiny). Anyway, parking is still a problem..... good sound-proofing and disguising make public parking easy to do... but for me at least, there is always a bit of worry about being bugged or woken up or found by the police... and that always tended to make me sleep lighter and more fitfully.

Finally, the town itself is obviously very important. Though much more gruelling physically (because I was in a small car),... my experience in Athens was more pleasant than van-living in Gainesville. I was generally relaxed in Athens and never worried about being overtly harassed. In Gainesville this was a constant concern. Maybe I'm just paranoid of right-wing Republican good old boys... but I slept easier in Athens despite the discomfort of the Nissan. So the point is, choose your location carefully... some place that is at least tolerant of homeless people, artists, and other weirdos.

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