Clown Cars

In regards to the homeless community, clown cars are not as funny as their circus counterparts. Clown cars are vehicles that somehow provide shelter for an incredible number of people.

I encountered my first clown car a few weeks after my transition into the hobo lifestyle. A car, which looked like a late 80´s Honda Civic, had parked close by and I wondered how on earth anybody could live in that small of a car. I was about to learn a lesson. When the doors opened, two adults, one child, and a dog climbed out. I was beyond amazed and felt grateful for my, relatively speaking, spacious Explorer. Besides the fact that everything was managed inside their tiny “mobile home”, the family appeared to follow pretty normal routines. When it got dark, mom made the bed for the little boy in the backseat, and she and her husband got “comfortable” in the front. Like many homeless who live inside their vehicles, they did not have the luxury of sleeping laying down.

Yesterday, I encountered another clown car that made my eyes even bigger. I was cleaning and putting up my new curtains, when a truck parked close by. It was an F-150 similar in size to this one. It´s not uncommon to see two adults living in a vehicle that is more truck bed than cabin. However, I wasn´t prepared for this: After taking a closer look, I realized that there were two children in the back. A family of four living in an F-150? Again, I felt incredibly fortunate.

Sleeping “Rough”

It´s not difficult to imagine how most people would feel if they had to sleep rough. But what about a hobo sleeping… well, not rough?

When I sleep inside, I find the eerie quiet rather unnerving. I miss the sound of wind, crickets, rain, streams, passing cars, anything that will make that unnatural quiet go away. A few months ago, I found a little online tool that brings the world´s sounds into any room. Noisli allows you to create your own personal sound background with different sounds like wind, water, and even café chatter. In addition, the site slowly changes its color, which can be relaxing as well.

If my mind is a little more active before I go to bed, I often listen to audio books featuring stories by authors such as Edgar Allen Poe. Another favorite of mine is space music (also called ambient music) with pictures of the universe.

mmm

I many ways absolute darkness is similar to silence. Both appear unnatural and make me anxious. Many people make an effort to darken their rooms as if they have some sort of light allergy (some people actually do, but they are fine during the night). Unless you live in a cave or underground, living outside means you will always have some sort of light. Think about the stars, urban street lights, or the faint glow of the world when you sleep in the middle of the forest.

Nature Photography

Believe it or not, I actually enjoy sleeping in small spaces. Laying in a queen-size bed in a big room in an even bigger house makes me feel “lost”. The comforts most people enjoy seem to smother me; it´s not just the physical space, but also all these possessions that lock me into one place. Possessions I have to work for, thus spending my precious time working for things I don´t need nor desire. Isn´t it insane how many of us slave our entire lives for things we don´t need to survive? Is comfort really all we desire? Or have we been brainwashed into believing that we need mattresses, chairs, tables, TVs, carpets, couches, swimming pools, fans, smart phones, curtains, and a thousand things more?

A River in a Parallel Universe

DSC06024

About a month ago, I decided that I was in desperate need for some serious nature. I got into my vehicle and headed for the road. With no particular destination in mind, I followed the path that appeared to hold the greatest freedom. As I left town, the familiar weight of life began lifting off my shoulders. I ventured far and several hours later ended up in Canon City, Colorado.

Once I passed the guts of the small town, I followed a road north of Royal Gorge to find a suitable hiking spot. I had visited this sight several years ago and was not the least interested in being surrounded by crowds of tourists. A few miles past the main entrance, I found an unusually large pull off that lead to a nice, tourist free trail. Hallelujah. A sign at the trail head promised river access; could it get any better?

DSC06030

It was a hot, sunny day and the land did not provide an inch of shade. As I made my way down the trail, I wondered if I should have brought sunscreen. Too late now. Despite the fact that the Pueblo region of Colorado is known for it´s semi arid climate, the plants along my path appeared lush and green.

DSC06034

After about a mile, I encountered the only decent tree in the entire area. All other “trees” were huddled up to one another along the hillside and looked like scraggly bushes. Before me stood a survivor! The outcast tree had collapsed into itself several times and looked like the wooden equivalent of a 99-year old war veteran. Hut ab!

DSC06035

So far, I could neither see nor hear any kind of water. I continued along the path and after forcing my way through some stubborn bushes, I found a fence blocking my way. “Oh, come on!”, I exclaimed in frustration. I was getting ready to start my usual fuzz regarding humans´ ridiculous need to turn the wilderness into private property, when I discovered a ladder. Since animal guards are typically found much closer to the road, I cannot think of a reason anyone would build a fence in the middle of nowhere and then provide access to the other side via a ladder (maybe you can enlighten me?).

DSC06038

Either way, I was happy to continue my path and soon found myself in the midst of a small canyon. I began hearing the quiet trickle of water, and curiously scanned my surroundings. Unless the river was hiding in a parallel universe that I could only perceive with my ears, it was physically impossible for it to be hiding in this landscape.

DSC06041

After turning a few corners, I came to a nearly dead stream. Did the heat and lack of rain take its toll on natures waterways? The stream was covered in thick green algae and at times disappeared completely from the surface. The desire to stick my feet into the cold flow of the river quickly diminished, and I began looking for a shady spot to rest.

DSC06044

With my zipper jacket wrapped around my upper body and head, I made my way further into the canyon. Everything was quiet, peaceful, and undisturbed – just what I needed! As I was looking for a comfortable spot, I began noticing a noise somewhere in the distance; it sounded natural, yet powerful. For a while I couldn’t figure out what I was hearing. If there had been any wind at all, I´d attributed the noise to a storm in the distance. I found the answer along with a perfect rest site right around the next curve.

DSC06049

I had discovered the Arkansas river, which rages its way through a narrow river bed surrounded by hills and mountains. I built a little shelter and enjoyed lunch in the midst of nature. I spent several hours at this site listening to the river and enjoying nature. This is home.

DSC06051

DSC06052

DSC06050

I will never be OK with your decision

One aspect of the hobo life is solitude. Unless you travel the world with your partner or best friend, you will spend some time alone. I’ve always been a loner and I can go days at a time without another person around. Most days, my work and school relationships are sufficient human contact. I do have some friends I spend time with here and there. It’s all good, right?

Well, it isn’t as much the actual human contact, or the lack thereof, that causes the traveling soul to become lonely. I believe it has to do with one’s status within society. See, living outside society’s defined boundaries often elicits a general disapproval. This is based on the notion that everybody wants and ought to live according to what society deemes “normal” and “healthy”. That the hobo can live perfectly fine outside of those standards is not taken into consideration.

“I will never be OK with you decision” was the statement I got from the member of my family I am closest to. I was never looking for any kind of approval; I am a very independent person and make my own decisions. Yet, I get this feeling of being “separate” or “something else”. Quite frankly, I am not sure I feel human anymore.

What else can I say? Be strong you free spirits out there. Swimming against the stream is never easy, but it is worth the freedom we gain.

Urban(ish) Car Camping

You’ve decided (or are forced) to start a life as an urban camper. An adventure is awaiting you! No more noisy neighbors, annoying landlords, and house or rental payments that drain your bank account fast than you can say ‘Damn!’. Before you break out into your mad happy dance, be aware that there are some new challenges you have to deal with. Once these are taken care of, you can dance and celebrate your freedom.

Even though owning a vehicle makes life as a hobo much easier, the question where to sleep remains. This guide will provide you with some insights regarding suitable parking locations for the night.

How to find a good spot

No matter where you want to settle down for the night, you will need to employ two crucial methods in order to ensure a safe and undisturbed slumber: Scouting and Rotating.

Scouting means to observe and analyze your potential night camp for a bit. I recommend doing so during different times of the day, as it will give you a better impression of your ever changing surroundings. Things you want to look out for are: homeless camps, cops and security guards, traffic flow (pedestrians and vehicles), and suspicious vehicles. Personally, I keep my distance from homeless camps as they a) tend to be frequented by people I don´t want to be around and b) bring unnecessary attention to my vehicle. In addition, I pay close attention to other hobos and look for drug dealers who run their business out of their vehicle. Interestingly enough, drug deals usually happen in nice cars. So, don´t just eyeball the rusty ´89 Toyota Corolla rolling by, but be aware that shady things happen in all kinds of vehicles (and houses).

Unless you´ve got a nice friend who lets you park on her property, you will find that being tolerated is about as good as it gets. Depending on where you live, residing in your vehicle may be illegal and you can be bothered and ticketed by the police. Even if there are no laws against homelessness in your community, you may still not be allowed to park overnight at most places. It is important to rotate spots at least every couple of nights, because it a) helps keep suspicions away from you and your vehicle (i.e. people won´t suspect you´re a homeless person roughing it in your car), b) makes you much more anonymous, and c) it keeps people from noticing you enough to bother you.

Where to find a good spot

In general, signs explicitly stating “NO overnight parking” mean just that. Unless you are really desperate or know that this rule is not enforced, parking there is simply not worth the risk. It may seem counterintuitive, but try to park somewhat close to other vehicles. If you are the only vehicle on an otherwise empty street, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb. This may attract cops and, so I´ve heard, car thieves. I´ve never been bugged by the police or a thief, and nobody has ever tried to rough me up either. I attribute this to my constant awareness, rotating spots, and scouting. Also, a gun, taser, knife, pepper spray, etc. can also add a sense of security IF you know how to use your weapon of choice.

Here is a list of spots that have proven themselves to make for a good night´s sleep. Note that these places are not intended as permanent residences nor should you hang out there during the day (except for the first one).

National Forest: Although regulations vary, most National Forests I´ve ever been to allow camping for up to two weeks at a time. Be aware that you may have to pay a fee if you choose to stay on a designated campground. I prefer the open wilderness. Make sure to inform yourself regarding current rules and regulations (fire bans, bear attacks, vehicle restrictions, etc.). Don´t forget – be bear aware and drown your camp fires. Also, don´t litter!

Walmart: Yes, good old Walmart has become the spot for many homeless individuals lucky enough to posses a vehicle. Unfortunately, these stores can also become hot spots for drug dealers, trashy people, and drama. On the upside, parking here ensures 24/7 access to a climate controlled environment, food and other goods, as well as restrooms. Again, scouting will help you determine which Walmart is suited for your needs and which ones to avoid. Be aware that not all Walmarts allow overnight parking. Visit this website to figure out which ones don´t.

Kmart: I have yet to confirm this one, but I´ve heard that Kmart permits overnight parking. Since Kmart closes during the night, I assume that the parking lots remain relatively empty and thus make for a quiet night.

Neighborhoods: I am not a huge fan of hiding myself inside my vehicle in a I-work-for-the-government-fashion, and thus usually avoid these areas. If you have to sleep in the midst of a residential neighborhood, be aware that you have to be absolutely invisible. If you hang out in your car with the radio on, your feet on the dash, and makeshift curtains covering your windows, you will most likely be asked to leave. Try to blend in and park next to the side of the building rather than in front of someone´s window or front door. People will notice a new car in front of their window much faster than one parked by the side of the house. Things that could give you away are fogged up windows, the look of your vehicle (trash inside, an excessively dirty car, etc.), lights and movement inside (cell phone, laptop, etc.), and the vehicle moving when you move. It is crucial that you consider your surroundings carefully! What seems like a good place to park, may become a nightmare the next morning when hundreds of children come running by your vehicle because you parked next to an elementary school.

Truck Stops: If you are close to a busy highway, you may have decent truck stop close by. There you have access to restrooms, food and some goods (pricey though), and even pay showers. The downside is that trucks will be coming and going pretty much all night and some light sleepers may find this disturbing. I´ve never been easily disturbed by noise during the night, and these days I find the sound of cars coming and going rather soothing. Except for car alarms. Seriously. Every single night I have ever spent at a Walmart, there was at least one brain-dead human being who horribly failed at the simply task of unlocking and entering their own vehicle. Shame on you. Yes, you.

Churches and Local Homeless Shelters: Some churches and shelters will look the other way and let the houseless sleep on their property.The response I got when I asked a volunteer if overnight parking is permitted at the shelter, was something like: “Well, technically not. But just don´t park at the same spot every night”. I tried this once, but left because I realized that while I can defend myself against one or two people, I wouldn’t stand a chance against a whole group. And grouping together seemed to be ´the thing´ to do at that particular location. 

Unique Places: Every town has its own unique structure and thus offers different options for overnight parking. Sometimes hotel parking lots make a great sleeping spot, other times not so much. Areas close to rail roads can work great if you are able to tolerate the occasional train. Remote country roads may lead to a little dirt dead-end that will work just fine. Be creative!

A Word (or two) on cleanliness

When I am circling an area trying to find a place to sleep and see spots littered with empty fast food containers, the random sock, and all kinds of unidentifiable liquids, I would like to collect these items and  dump ´em right into the car (or backpack) of the person who left them there. You wonder why the homeless are being frowned upon? Anti-social behavior, unnecessary drama, and yes, leaving a disgusting mess for someone else to pick up. This is precisely what makes us hobos different. We found a niche that allows us to roam freely, while still traveling within different societies. And we know, for the most part, how to behave and show gratitude. No matter where you find a good night´s sleep, whether that be in the wilderness or in a Walmart parking lot, pick up after yourself.