Summer in Colorado. Mostly sunny or sunny every day. The sun’s intensity amplified by our high altitude’s thin atmosphere. I hear this is some people’s idyll, but it’s certainly not mine. Give me an icy river to forge, numb toes, beer cooling in snow. Right now, I’d even take the spring hailstorm I encountered in a supermarket parking lot last year, the floodwater rising up my car door, my recently purchased frozen peas melting in the backseat. At least that was exciting. But this—my scaley, reptilian lips, my one red shin, my beheaded aloe vera plant—these are just garden-variety consequences of careless sunblock application, my lips worsened by my bad habit of licking them in direct sun. If my van were ready, I’d leave this Colorado summer in a second. Continue reading “The Sun Is a Monster (Or, Three Van Sewing Projects)”
Once in a while, when I’m working on the van in the parking lot behind my apartment and my jigsaw isn’t buzzing and the newborn in the end unit is not crying, I’ll suddenly hear someone softly chewing behind me. A slow, indifferent type of chewing, like a llama pulling at last year’s grass.
I mean, that’s exactly who it is behind me—a llama. I live on the edge of town, next to a horse and llama farm. Really, it’s a bunch of horses and just one llama. For more than a year now, I’ve been waiting for the llama to befriend the horses, maybe even to begin to mistake herself for a horse, kicking up dust with the rest of them. But the closest I ever see the llama to anyone is when she’s trying to get at the long grasses that sprout out of the edges of her barbed wire enclosure (barbed to keep the coyotes out, I think), and I happen to be standing on the other side of the fence. If I talk to the llama in a high enough pitch for long enough, she will look at me, not with what appears to be annoyance, but worse—pure disinterest, her jaw slack, her eyelids closing.
Meanwhile, the inside of my van is looking more like the llama every day. Insulated with wool batting, the van now sends small tufts of hair into the air when I leave the doors open to the wind. The hairs rise up above the van, out of the shade, where the sun changes them from cream-colored to white. The llama’s fly-away hairs do the same thing. At a certain time of day, with the light hitting her a certain way, the llama looks as if she’s standing in a cloud of powdered sugar.
One of the semesters I taught freshmen composition, I had my students keep a blog. The point of the class was to teach students how to tailor their writing to their specific purpose, audience, and context, and also to the conventions of whatever genre they were writing in. Mid-semester, one of my brightest students started publishing her weekly blog posts late. When I asked her about it, she said she was just following the genre’s conventions. She pointed out that bloggers always start out with frequent, enthusiastic posts, only to peter out a couple months later, prefacing each post with an apology for their lateness, “as if anyone is actually still reading their blog.” Continue reading “When will the van be done? A definitive answer.”
Last Wednesday just before 6am, I woke up to a strange light coming through the slit between my curtains. Later, I’d determine the light’s three sources: a firetruck, a firefighter’s high-output flashlight, and the flames shooting up from the townhouse in front of mine, 20 steps away. Heading downstairs, I smelled smoke, and, more subtly, cedar. Just seven hours ago, I’d finished building a cedar chest. The garage was still covered in cedar. Cedar shavings on the miter saw, cedar dust around the orbital sander, cedar off-cuts in a cardboard box I’d labeled “Cedar only!”. The cedar chest had been the last thing I’d worked on before going to bed, and now, even as I exited my apartment with all my valuables in a backpack, it was still on my mind. I looked back at the chest one more time and imagined the cedar lid catching sparks. Continue reading “Cedar Chest vs. House Fire (Wait, What About the Van?)”
Problem #1: Orange peel.
Before installing solar panels on the van, I painted and cleaned the rest of the van’s rusty roof. Continue reading “I Have Five Problems (And Planned Obsolescence Is One)”
The van’s previous owner left me a trash bag of documents. An expired warranty for tires. A receipt for an oil change completed in 2013. An operator’s manual for a truck refrigeration unit.
I was about to chuck the refrigeration manual with the rest of the bag’s contents when I realized its importance: My van used to be refrigerated. Probably two owners ago. This explained everything. Why did the van have circular holes in its roof and undercarriage? For pipes leading to the refrigeration unit. Why did its floor have surface rust? Condensation, a result of temperature fluctuation. Why did the engine squeak? Someone had added a big compressor (what Kevin is holding up in the photo above) and three extra pulleys to the accessory belt system. They’d elongated the belt but kept Ford’s original belt tensioner, which wasn’t made to pull so much belt. So the tensioner wore out, leading me to a repair shop in rural Texas. Even with a new tensioner, the belt system continued to squeak, because Ford’s tensioner was never meant for such a big job. Squeak, squeak, squeak. Every time I started the van, a hamster on a fitness kick settled in behind my right temple, and that fucker made sure to bring his wheel. Continue reading “My Van Used To Be a Refrigerator”
I’m about 60% water, almost as much as a banana. While I slept in a McDonald’s parking lot in New Mexico the other week, the water vapor in my breath stuck to the van’s metal ribs and fogged up the windshield. It wasn’t a big deal. When I woke up, I opened the windows, and the cold air quickly cleared the glass.
But once I introduce natural materials into my van, moisture will be a big deal. If I let water accumulate on the van’s cedar-plank ceiling and cotton sheets, I’ll risk breeding mold. Don’t look at this photo of a man attacked by mold. I’m not a fearmonger because I told you not to look. Continue reading “Tips for Installing a Roof Fan on a Transit Connect Van (Plus the Life Story of the Smiling Bald Guy on Dicor Lap Sealant)”
The other day I began my van conversion in earnest by making a 14” square hole in the roof. But before I condense eight hours of work into five captioned images in my next post, I’d like to issue a disclaimer: The process of building this van feels nothing like looking at my before and after pictures. So far, not one part of this project has been quick or straightforward, and I don’t expect that to change going forward. Reading blogs and Instagram posts about #vanlife is like watching Rachel Ray make a 30-minute meal at a kitchen island conveniently stocked with clean pots, washed greens, and pre-cut pats of butter. Actually converting a van is like spending 30 minutes mincing onions while wearing swim goggles to prevent tearing up, then crying anyway as you write a note to your roommates to please wash your fucking dishes within 12 hours of use xoxoxoxo
Let’s return to these two before-and-after photos (and two more later on) to get a sense of what really happened. Continue reading “What Really Happened (Featuring Panicked Spider, Corrupted Child, Hiccuping Man, and Villain on the Run!)”
As I started sharing this blog with people (or thinking of sharing it with people; I don’t like the thought of other people reading my stuff; I am aware that this does not contribute to my financial well-being as a writer), I realized that not all of you live in Colorado, where I pass at least two homebuilt camper vans on my mile-long journey to the grocery store. Here’s what I mean when I say I’m building a camper van. Continue reading “What is She Building Anyway?”
Three months ago, when a broker promised to find me a van within two weeks, I bought a top-notch fan for the roof of my van. I planned to install the fan the day I got the van, which I was convinced would be soon. I wanted to hit the ground running! Like this guy, who converted his van in seven days! According to my estimates, I’d be done with the entire conversion by mid-July.
It’s mid-July. After two weeks of van ownership, I have yet to install the fan. I’m beginning to realize that the first step of a van conversion is to prepare for the van conversion. Preparation. I’ve never been good at it. I just want to write, not generate story ideas and prepare pitches. I just want to climb, not wash sunblock and grime off my climbing rope in a bathtub (and then wash the bathtub and then myself). I just want to run my vacuum in long, satisfying lines, not get down on all fours and scrape my bedroom carpet with my fingernails in an effort to collect the long hairs that clog the vacuum’s brush. I theorize that you become an adult only once you accept that every fun thing in life is preceded by preparation (and followed by even more bullshit, cleaning up). Continue reading “Life is a Long Preparation”