Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Trailer Trash' Thoughts

A friend sent a trailer trash email with a collection of photos of this bazillion dollar RV. Kind of puts Tillie to shame. But, as Tillie and I continue our trek through this amazing country, I've accumulated some valuable observations--not valuable enough to earn the bucks needed to purchase and operate the above RV mansion, but some worth sharing with the blogsphere.

I had the um, occasion, to lose my generator tailpipe, the one that dangled below the genny, requiring me to replace it when I was going to need that shot of power while boondocking. Trying to replace it is like trying to find parts for a Model-T. Has the RV industry missed the computer revolution?

My RV dealer, that I'll try not to name, when I request a part, acts like the only way to figure out the part number is to look at the rig. Um, you even have my VIN number, so you should know exactly what model I'm driving.

Argh! The cord that operates one side of my window shade is ready to snap. And that looks like a relatively simple problem that will cost a bundle to fix. Any bright ideas will be appreciated.

Driving down a relatively empty Interstate the other day, I inadvertently veered over the rumble strip. No biggie. Then I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a hubcap heading for the weeds in the median. Nah, couldn't be my hubcap, because the one on the driver's side rear is already missing. Mile marker 87. Rats. I didn't stop and I'm not going back. Any good ideas for cheap hubcap replacements?

My good friends Rich and Mary Jean are hosting me in their nice driveway while I'm in their fairly warm state during this holiday season. They, for the first time, put up lights on their house. Tillie effectively blocks the view. They haven't evicted me. True friends!

If anyone wants to get me something for Christmas, I'd love those high-hanging mirrors on that mega-rig above. When driving through metro traffic I feel like Dumbo with big ears. Let's see, what else do I want? That cute red car would be nice, and then I'd need a place to put it. Might as well get me the whole enchilada. How much could that cost???

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fluke Factor Fries Me!

Pre-California snow in Northern NM, 11-18-09

Some things I'd chalk up to my previous novice RVer status. But not after 80k+ miles, starting my 5th year of full-time RVing. I'll share a few of my fluky happenings, but I'd love to hear from others. (I acknowledge gross neglect of this blog. Plenty of excuses...please excuse me.)

FURNACE FLUKE--I try not to use the house furnace, but when Tillie is below 50 inside as I crawl out from under my toasty down comforter, I reach for the furnace switch. A quick warm-up, then I frugally revert to the little space heater. One day I flipped the switch and nothing happened. Hmmm...I checked all obvious systems, no clue.

I happened to be real short of expendable funds, and dollar signs started spinning around in my head like Nevada slots, where I happened to be at the time, parked in the yard of my friends Elaine and Bob. Crotchety ol' Bob is a trucker/handyman, so he offered to take a look. Of course, it worked fine. Never had a problem since.

BACK-UP CAMERA--usually when I'm at my most tired state, and it's dark, and I'm just wanting to get parked on the narrow lil' slab and hop in bed--the act of backing into my camping spot gets infinitely harder when the little camera doesn't work. It happens maybe once every 50 times, and never when I have the ability to park Tillie on a dime (??!).

ELECTRIC WINDOW THINGY--on the hottest day of this past summer I had a brief 1-hour drive to my destination. Hopping in, I decided that 100 was a good point to use my seldom-used AC. Turned the switch and nothing. Too hot to do anything but swear, I pushed the button for the passenger window, figuring a cross hot breeze would be better than nothing. Too bad. Window didn't open. More bad words, and lots of sweat.

Took Tillie to my trusted mechanic at Mike's Auto and Truck in DeKalb. He found the AC problem, but not the window. But when he tried it, viola! It worked, and has ever since.

GENERATOR--recently parked in a WalMart lot in CT and temps went down to the 20s. I sleep fine, and about 3 I pop up, push the genny switch, hit the furnace switch, and jump back in bed till inside temps get to be at least 45. This particular morning I did that routine and was fighting to get back to sleep as genny rumbled underneath my bed. The rumbling started faltering, like someone poured glue into the gas tank. Figuring the worst, I shut it off, knowing that the 36 degrees inside was as warm as it would get. Did use it a few days later and it was fine.

Again, to Mike's, and they checked it out, to no avail. And it's been fine since.

I could wrack my brain for more, but I'll pause and hope that others let me know I'm not just the only one with fluke factor-itis.

Fluke or not, I love RVing, especially now when I'm spending a little time in California. And I'll be on the road for several months on my HEAR US Learning Curve Express project. Follow along, and check out this cool piece that Fox Chicago did on my efforts to raise awareness about homeless children and youth.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Milestone Anniversary & New Adventure

On Halloween 2005 I took the serious leap into RVing, without an RV. I sold my townhouse that day, meaning I'd need to get an RV to do this crazy project I named "HEAR US" to give voice and visibility to homeless kids.

I'd be a liar if I said I knew what I was getting into. I knew nothing about RVing. I was clueless about how to operate the video camera and assorted peripherals that I was told I needed. I didn't know if anyone would be willing to participate in this venture to let kids talk about their homelessness for what I didn't even know would be a documentary.

And I didn't have any way of knowing if I could stand the spartan downsized life that I was stepping into. My life before, while not ostentatious, was way more comfortable than necessary. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to try. I believed that IF kids would participate, IF I could find someone to help produce the interviews onto a DVD, IF I could figure a way to market this tool to get word out, it would be worth it.

Little did I know how things would play out. I am not done yet, at least as much as I have a say. My Own Four Walls, the heralded DVD with several powerful short videos, is beginning to catch on with schools, shelters, agencies, colleges/universities, and faith communities. Other projects have evolved.

And that's where I am now. On the verge of the Learning Curve Express, an attempt to connect invisible homeless families and teens with their member of Congress via YouTube. Anyone interested in actually learning about the realities of homelessness for those who turn to a patchwork quilt of motels and friends' couches instead of sleeping under bridges can watch these interviews.

From what I've heard so far, these experts in life without a home have a lot to say. Whether anyone listens remains to be seen. This is where I need help. Will you share the short video clips with your circles? Can Learning Curve Express go viral, dispelling myths that have kept Congress in the dark about lives of families and teens who have no place to call home?

Of note, I continue to receive incredible support--financial and services--and encouragement, not to mention heart-filled thanks from the families and kids I've met who courageously stepped forward as a person often defiled in society, someone without a home. And, if you could toss a few tax-deductible bucks in our secure donation bucket, that would be helpful.

At a time when our economy swirls around the sewer, and stories about skyrocketing homelessness continue to astound even me, I'll shove off next Sunday, and see what this next chapter holds.

Whatever discomfort I will encounter pales to the constant strain and stress of not having a place for your family to safely live. I'll try to keep that in mind as I hit the eventual potholes, bad weather, shortage of electricity and water that have been my constant humbling companions. Travel with me, OK?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Appreciating Water, Electricity and Flat Spots

It's that time again, where I'm rolling across country on an insanely ambitious endeavor, the HEAR US Learning Curve Express.

And as I roll, I'm remembering that my summer's security--access to water, electricity, and dumps--is behind me. Before me are question marks. Where I'm going? Who will volunteer to participate? What support I'll receive? and What surprises I'll encounter?

Already I'm doing without--I'm low on water. I have no place to plug in, therefore no heat unless I run the generator to power the heater. And dumping will be an issue in a couple

But what I'm doing pales in comparison to the struggles of invisible homeless families and
teens. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing--to give them voice and visibility.

Don't think I'm not just a tad irate after watching Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism A Love Story. Fat cats ravage global economies, destroy businesses, ruin families, and gloat. Frankly, after watching this greed-busting movie, I found myself even more motivated to shine a light on homeless families.
Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.
Me and Tillie. We're going to do our best. Follow along. It could get interesting!

photos by the author

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ready to Go! Learning Curve Express

What, am I crazy? Perhaps.

In 2005, when first I set out in this bulky, spartan RV on a naive mission to capture faces and voices of kids who knew homelessness from experience, I had no idea what was down the road, literally or figuratively. What resulted was an amazingly inspiring documentary, My Own Four Walls, that lets kids unload on the realities of homelessness, including their hopes and dreams.

I would have never predicted I'd be still living in this tin can, preparing to head out on a 5th cross-country tour, still seeking to give voice and visibility to homeless kids. But I am....

Crazy? Well, my friends would be able to shed light on this topic. But, with homelessness among families and teens surging, I feel a sense of, if not insanity, a befuddlement and frustration that comes with seeing things get worse instead of better. Out of that feeling LEARNING CURVE EXPRESS was born.

LCE will take me to families and teens who desperately turn to an unpredictable rotation of friends, family and motels that may provide a nightly place to sleep. For some reason, Congress and HUD decided to exclude these folks from the homeless count, relying instead on an oft-criticized "Point In Time" street count that bamboozles Congress into thinking we don't have much of a homelessness problem, especially when it comes to families and teens.

HEAR US Inc., my nonprofit organization, is committed to giving voice and visibility to ho
meless children and youth. We're honing in on the issue of these uncounted children, teens and parents who really do count. I will film short interviews as they describe perils of not having a fixed, adequate and regular (part of the definition of homelessness) place of abode.

Using technology, skilled techie students in Northern Illinois University's film program, and chutzpah, I will contact the local office where our LCE participants live, ask them to watch the 3-minute video of their constituent, and invite them to get informed and involved in this issue.

Part of the success of this ambitious effort (2-min. video clip) will rely on how well my RV, dubbed "Tillie the Turtle," gets me from place to place. Most of the success will depend on getting voters in these congressional districts to weigh in with their legislator that HOMELESS KIDS COUNT! A campaign to do so is in the works.

At least I'm starting with a clean RV, with the year-old dirt blasted off by my friends at Mike's Auto and Truck Repair in DeKalb, IL. I know I'll gather more dirt, dents, and experiences along the way. I'd like to have virtual company, so travel with me and, if you have a few bucks to toss our way for this crazy trip, we'd be most happy for the support.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Getting Ready for the BIG ONE!

I've been a road-rat for the past 4 years. Having never RVed before, I have to say this lifestyle fits me in more ways than I would have imagined. I've logged over 75k miles, hitting each of the lower 48 states. Traveling mostly backroads, I've seen a side of America few realize exists.

Solo-RVing, and finding great friends along the way who graciously accommodate my non-profit organization, HEAR US, and our mission to call attention to invisible homeless kids, has been more than satisfying and successful. With this experience under my belt, I'm about to venture on the most intense project of them all--the HEAR US Learning Curve Express.

You see, for way too many years, Congress has been bamboozled by HUD and its cronies about the scope of homelessness, particularly as it affects families and youth, especially those outside metro areas. It got so bad that the bamboozlers fought to limit the definition of "homeless" to exclude folks who bounce between friends' couches and motels after they lose their place to live due to hardship. Yeah, let's make it harder on people who have lost their homes. Geez!

The way I figure, I'll land in congressional districts and find some homeless families or teens willing to talk on camera,
pop those interviews on our YouTube site(with help from NIU interns), and make contact with the Congressperson (or staff) to invite them to meet with the film subjects, possibly with some media presence. That should provide a congressional learning opportunity that could yield huge results.

It's a big country, but I'm willing to meet with and film as many invisible homeless families and teens as I need to in order to convince Congress that in every district people struggle with survival because they have no place to live. With that as my goal, I may be on the road a long time.

I know this is my RVer blog--but it's as impossible for me to separate my work from my lifestyle as it is for homeless families to become "un-homeless" because they're not staying at a shelter. My task now is to let them tell that story as often as it takes until Congress gets it. It could be a long trip....check our HEAR US website soon for some exciting announcements!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Milestones and Miles to Go

48 states. Heading into 5 years of living in Tillie. Who'd ever thunk?

I do remember 5 years ago as my plan to create this unconventional approach to homeless advocacy evolved. Even I had those moments when I thought I was nuts. Especially the RV piece.

After years of scoffing at RVers, I was to become one. No! But yes. And now I'm plotting my next--last?--cross-country venture.

This trip, if it materializes, has all the ingredients to pump my adrenalin. I am more determined than ever to give homeless families and teens visibility, especially in districts where their legislators have demonstrated cluelessness as recently illustrated by our homeless definition campaign's rejection.

Between now and the next few weeks I'm planning to clear out the stuff I don't need, paring my already semi-Spartan digs down further. I'll make greater use of my scanner and use/stash less paper. Getting my wires under control is also a priority before I strangle myself.

I also want to improve the ergonomic conditions I face daily by adjusting my workspace height. I saw an adjustable table in a campers' magazine. Yeah, I need to do something to adjust this table height. How remains to be seen....

Funny how things that were issues, concerns and unknowns are now non-issues. I'd like to think I'm learning to prioritize, that life in Tillie has taught me to value what is important. That's a lesson that needs some practice. The test will probably come in ways I don't expect.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Negligent Blogger Confesses!

Where did this past month go?

I'm back in IL for the time being, safely ensconced at a friend's...perfect spot! Next week we plan a trip northward, to points unknown.

Hard to believe this will be my 4th summer living in Tillie. It seems normal, and nice, until the heat gets here. I'm still debating summer travel plans.

One of my likely trips will be to catch up with Zach, the amazing 11-year-old boy walking from "My House to the White House" to raise awareness about homeless children. Seeing as we're not having much luck getting Congress to pass a decent definition of homelessness, I'm not adverse to desperate measures.

My work trying to raise awareness of homeless children continues. I'm blogging my fool head off, including on the poverty blog at I've been trying to keep up with Facebook
and have even begun to post new videos to YouTube.

No promises for exciting posts here for a while, but who knows??!! Happy Spring-Summer!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

One Finger Says it All!

I'm back in IL following a 6-month, 10k mile romp through the backroads of this fine country. I really did backroads this time, including all my miles in scenic TX, NV,CA, LA, AL, FL, MS, OK, AZ, NE, IA, IL, and most of GA, UT, NY...whew! I think that's the final answer. One thing I can say for sure, backroads are much more interesting, and friendly, than those overcrowded interstates.

Take, for example, the use of 1 finger. In most of uncivilized civilization, one finger means, well, you know. Not nice. A sign of anger, frustration and the like. Well, out in the country, 1 finger holds a whole other meaning..."howdy!" being the most literal translation.

I practiced--on empty roads--the 1-finger wave--and took a pix to let people know what a good 1-finger-wave looks like. I received lots of them, making me sad that my journey is coming to an end, at least for now as much as I know.

If you've read this far, perhaps I could tempt you to look at some pix I took to show city slickers and untraveled folks what life is like off the Interstate.
  • Animals you might find out there
  • Scenes you might see
It's actually kind of delightful, but don't tell anyone because I'd hate for those roads to become congested. If it happened, and was traced back to me, I'd probably get a different kind of 1-finger salute from the nice folks out in the country...!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Perks of Risk-Taking

Sometimes I'm happy when I listen to my urges. So far this is one of those times.

I debated leaving paradise for the unknown. But I did leave, and so far the journey has been nothing short of spectacular! Backroads across AZ, UT and now NV were totally unoccupied...except for a few 4-legged friends. Check out this short slideshow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Not?

Tillie dwarfed by snowy mountains 3 years ago. We just missed a huge storm, but the remnants of it were thought-provoking. This was the pretty stuff. I didn't stop for pix in the more intimidating part.

I'm in a weird spot now--perfectly content, having all I need--electricity, water, a vehicle to chase around in, ideal weather, good friends, and no push to leave. The Phoenix area at this time of year is beautiful--signs of spring brighten up this usually brown resort area.

So why am I so restless? I'm not sure, but I am. And I'm willing to give up Nirvana to set out to the nether lands. How weird is that? It is.

My official business here is almost done and should be wrapped up by tomorrow. So I could, would, should leave Thursday. Reno is my next destination, but I don't need/want to be there too soon, so I'm thinking about how to go without taking the routes I've traveled before.

Heading north to go east of the Grand Canyon and into Utah would take me on a route I haven't traveled since I was in college, when my vehicle was a '68 Firebird sans snowtires, and my traveling companion/college roommate Pat and I were feeling quite full of ourselves until the blizzard hit, forcing our route to change (the least of the possible catastrophes as we drove at night through a blinding snowstorm in the mountains).

I'm quite tempted, and barring other options popping up that make more sense, Tillie and I will likely head for a scenic route. Sure, I'll check weather forecasts, knowing that springtime storms blast across the mountains picking up weirdness from California, and I don't want to test my mountain driving skills in a blizzard. The all-important campground with electricity has diminished in importance after my weeks of boondocking this trip.

But I do want adventure, or at least a less-than-tedious drive across NV, so the northerly route it will be. And who knows when/if I'll pass this way again. I say go for it! What say you?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tillie n' Me...Getting Better Every Day!

How cool is this? A friend let me know about Wordle, and, well, it does become addicting!

I assembled a list of words related to my past 3 1/2 years of RVing. It's not all inclusive, as I am looking at it now and coming up with a few more. Oh well, it's free, and I can do another one. Here's a pointer I learned on my own.

Once you create yours, print it but use one of the PDF creating tools, or maybe you don't even have to, but that lets you save it. Then copy the image into a photo editing program, save as a jpg, and then you can use it like you would a photo.

And, it's probably smart to assemble your random list of words in a word doc so you don't have to start from scratch if you forgot something. I didn't find a way to scrap it except for exiting the program and reopening. You will end up posting to the gallery and looking at the collection waiting for yours, the best of all.

The perfect hobby for a quiet evening boondocking in a parking lot, or wherever. Don't say I didn't teach you something!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bad Wind Blowin'

Trouble ahead. Sometimes it's good to know so you can avoid it, and sometimes knowing it makes you know you're hitting trouble, but you have to plunge into it.

Such was the case yesterday as I headed across central Texas, on backroads, of course. I was nearing the town that was my destination for the night and I saw some ominous clouds on the horizon. Uh oh, I thought, the band of storms that I thought maybe I missed was darkening a growing portion of sky.

Steady as she goes, I figured. Since this is crackling dry central TX, I started pondering the grassfires that I used to dismiss as No Big Deal. Three years ago as I ventured on my first HEAR US trip, I was treated to an up-close-and-personal tour of the after-effects of grassfires, and have since revised my NBD opinion to V(ery)BD.

As I neared town, I became more alarmed because the dark sky was resembling either tornadoes or smoke. Hmmm...and me, down to 1/4 tank of gas, not the ideal amount if you have to run for the hills in rural anywhere.

I figured I'd keep driving in that direction until I could figure out what was up. Certainly cop cars would block our path if this were a fire or tornado. I hope.

As I neared town it became ominously obvious--of course, a dust storm. After all, we're nearing the Great Depression 2, and plenty of bare topsoil is available in the Dust Bowl. I'm not making this up. Here is a link to my pix I took as I neared the storm...

I'm wind-seasoned, but it's like snow, the first time of the season is a learning curve. No time for learning here. I kicked on the Weather Band and heard that gusts of 60+mph, regular winds 45-50. It got dark. And when it started spitting rain, my initial thought was "Oh great, mud on the windshield." The new wipers I had were useless because of the headwinds/sidewinds, whatever-winds.

And suddenly my 1/4 tank of gas became even a bigger problem than my empty water tank. Temps were supposed to drop into the 40s, with wind, I figured that would be plenty cold. And since my genny doesn't run on less than 1/4 tank I'm screwed. I had to get gas. The ubiquitous WalMart appeared, with good ol' Murphy's gas. OK.

Despite my ample size, the winds nearly blew me across the lot as I held the nozzle. I figured $20 would do the trick, and literally as I was replacing the hose the gas station's power went out. Timing! At least for me.

I aimed Tillie's nose into the wind on the edge of the WM parking lot. And we rocked and rolled for the better part of 3 hours, when it subsided somewhat. I was tired, and used the motion to rock me to sleep.

When I looked out this morning, I saw what could explain some of the lessening winds...a semi had parked between me and the wind, shielding Tillie from the worst of it. Thanks, trucker.

My thought through most of this was for those households living in old beater mobile homes and RVs that I've passed on all the backroads of this country. I know how wind-proof Tillie is not. And it's a newer RV. What would it be like to try to live in a dilapidated home of any sort with this wind, or other bad weather common across the nation? (I'm not ignoring the even worse realities of other countries, I'm just writing from my experience.)

All this at a time when Congress is debating an amount of money I can't even begin to imagine. And they can't see that millions of substandard houses are posing hardships for tens of millions of people? Perhaps they should ride around with me....

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Driving Dirty and Proud of It!

I'm not a total slob. In fact, I appreciate reasonable attempts to attain some form of neatness, even when I'm the one doing the cleaning.

But I have to claim the title of "dirtiest RV in the southwest." And I just don't know what to do about it.

Tillie got a good cleaning back at the end of September, let's see, 4 months and 4,000 miles ago. Why would she be looking so dirty?!

I've washed her by myself before, and then said real bad words when it rained, amazingly in dry climates like Las Cruces in February! It usually rains the next day after the Tillie bath--a good way to break a drought!

So I'm going to keep driving-dirty. I will be proud. I'm not one of the pristine RVs that look like the maid, butler and valet came out to clean the specks of dirt off before anyone sees it. Nope, we're going to be the dirtiest little RV in the whole country.

On another note, I am sort of adept at electrical stuff, having taken a wiring course back in my lighting showroom management days. But I was a bit flummoxed yesterday when my GFI outlet tripped, not why it did, but how to get it back into the working column.

Have you ever noticed how small the writing is on those things? Reset? Test? Well, having discovered the breakers for AC and the fuses (which I've worked with before) for DC, I figured it was a slam dunk for flipping the breaker but the reset button wouldn't reset. Hmmm....

So I got down on the floor and again looked at the breakers, inconveniently located under my bed, and fiddled around, and lo and behold--it works. I'm not asking why.

As I am a month into this 4th year of my travels, I smile at the stress that I let myself experience my first time out...worried about whether or not I had full hook-ups, if the park had a gate, how long I could go without dumping, etc. I even sort of cared if I was dirty.

Now, nah! Whatever.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Better Than Sleeping Outside

I knew I was spoiled. After the summer of being comfortably parked at a friend's in the Chicago suburbs and 2 months of all the comforts (water, electric, easy access to dump, great view, quiet) in GA, I left last week, all set for a 4-month stint south and westward.

My travel is also my work, so I have a plan, albeit loose one, as to where I'm going. Some of my travels are bound to include boondocking, the art of living without the hook-ups we all usually love. Boondocking has advantages--the freedom to park just about anywhere, and CHEAP!. And it has disadvantages, especially if weather becomes an issue.

Tonight it will be an issue for me, a chilly-wimp. It's going to drop to about 20 here in northern Florida. I'm boondocking, which means relying on a noisy, inefficient generator in the morning to kick on my otherwise noisy (but genny drowns it out) propane-sucking furnace. I will rarely kick on genny and furnace other than the morning.

I'd love some good advice on how to minimize the discomfort besides the obvious--dress warmly. My down comforter works fine once I get under it. It's times like now as I watch my inside thermometer drop to the low 60s and beyond that I'd like to have some simple way of generating a bit of warmth while I work on my laptop.

My reality check is my work with homeless people over the last 23 years. I know lots of folks are out in lots colder conditions, lacking the basics I so take for granted. So, my complaining has a caveat--I'm whining about something that isn't even the beginning of suffering. Wimp!