Well, Walden has moved on. His new caretakers have given him a new moniker: Irie.
You can read more about his new life on his new blog.
Fare well, old friend!
Well, Walden has moved on. His new caretakers have given him a new moniker: Irie.
You can read more about his new life on his new blog.
Fare well, old friend!
Well, folks. It happened. Walden is starting a new adventure. I’ll update this page shortly with the URL of his new caretakers.
Well, folks, the time has come. Now that I have a Home in Mobile, I no longer need a Mobile Home.
It’s a 1985 Westy with the original 1.9L engine. My dad bought in Berkeley about 15 years ago.
When I got it in February 2011 and the odometer appeared to work, it
had under 100,000 miles on it. I have had it serviced by some of the
best VW mechanics across the country including Buslab in Berkeley
(where my dad had it serviced)The odometer reads about 110,000 now,
but I estimate that it has about 130,000 miles on it. The tires that I
put on at about 100,000 still look pretty good. As far as I know, it
has the original clutch.
Since I lived in it full time, I made sure that it was suitable for
living and was reliable. If you want a Subaru engine, you might just
keep looking, this motor is still in great shape and it has a new clutch. I drive about 60
miles a week and after 3 months when I got the oil changed I hadn’t
needed to add a drop.
New clutch! Plus rear main seal, input shaft seal (11/13/2015).
New Battery! (1/8/15)
It has been painted once.
Here is a list of improvements and approximate times that they were
done. See the blog for more detail.
Tent: GoWesty. 231-707A-BL: Pop-Top Tent, Acrylic (Synthetic Canvas) Fabric
Aux battery kit
High Power headlight kit
This is a must-do improvement. It makes it safe to drive at night.
Rear hatch struts: May 2012
Solar charger August 2011 https://web.archive.org/web/20111018212134/http://gowesty.com/ec_view_details.php?id=4287&category_id=376&category_parent_id=
Engel 43 Quart Fridge August 2011 (included but not shown)
Eyebolts for locking down Fridge http://www.gowesty.com/ec_view_details.php?id=4372&category_id=&category_parent_id=
GoWesty Fridge elimination kit. http://www.gowesty.com/ec_view_details.php?id=4361&category_id=&category_parent_id=
Tank Filler hook-up (water) May 2011
Chrome hubcaps May 2011 (I’m not impressed with how they held up.)
Fuel tank reseal (supposed to make it not squirt gas during fill-up,
Fuel filter upgrade
GoWesty LP Tank replaced (may 2011)
Propex HS2000 Propane Furnace (May 2011)
Lock extension for rear hatch
Skylight replaced (2011 Feb)
Kenwood Stereo with Bluetooth hands-free and streaming, USB, auxiliary
input (no CD), new speakers all around (wired properly with 4 wires to
the rear rather than the 3 that VW included), Subwoofer (Bazooka
BTA6100 6-inch 100-watts) http://amzn.to/1KouSCz .
Tires replaced at about 100,000 miles.
The A/C is intact, but I’m told that the compressor is dead. I have
met only one person who actually uses the A/C in a Vanagon, and they
had some monster engine replacement. (That said, a local mechanic whom
I also trust to work on my dad’s 1965 356C, claims he can make it
I got word that I was to start working at Stanford in Mid-June with just under a month to make the move. Less than an hour after I had booked a round trip ticket from SLC to Birmingham, I had decided I would instead drive Walden to Birmingham for long term storage. When I booked the ticket, it said that since I had booked it less than 24 hours before the departure, it could not be changed. No problem, I thought. I would just forfeit the first leg, drive to Birmingham, and fly back on return ticket.
A few days later, I logged in to Delta’s site to test a tweak I had done to the configuration of my password management program. I noticed that under a section heading entitled “Upcoming Trips” was the word “none.”
Oh. They canceled my ticket.
Now I can only assume that I thought that I was in some parallel universe in which anything about how airline tickets are priced and sold made any sense at all. Of course not taking an outgoing flight means that the return flight is also canceled. I suppose I just wished I lived in an world in which I would not have to talk to anyone about plane tickets. I get tired just thinking of the number of times I have booked a ticket in the wrong month, or the wrong airport, or something else.
A couple days later, I called my friends at Delta. Yes. They had canceled my ticket. No, I could not use just the return flight. It was a Rewards Ticket and they do not allow you to book one-way tickets using Reward miles. She would have to check with her supervisor, but she was suggesting that my best option, if were to be approved, would be to pay a $150 change fee to re-book the EXACT SAME TICKET because the price of the one-way ticket from BHM to SLC was over $600.
In the end, it got better than that. The supervisor must have been in a good mood or something, because they just pretended that I had not booked the ticket at all. My miles were refunded. It would take a day or so for them to post back to my account, and after that I could try again to book a ticket. I was relieved. If I had booked a round trip from SLC to BHM only 24 hours in advance, I could probably do the same with my trip from Birmingham with a week’s notice.
No problem. The next day I logged in to delta.com. My miles had been returned to my account. Better still, I found a flight that would require only 25,000 miles of the 37,500 that had just been returned to me. Sure, to satisfy Delta’s requirements I had to book a round trip ticket, but I booked the return almost a year later. Surely by then they would have forgotten about the no-one-way-reward-tickets policy. Seriously, Delta, how is not taking the first flight of a trip that different from not taking the return flight? And if I can simply “forget” to take the return flight, how is that different from a one-way ticket? Would it not be better to know that I was not going to take the flight so that the ticket would be available to sell to someone else? The decision-making of airlines is mysterious.
So I did it. I re-booked my flight for fewer miles than my original ticket. Life was good.
I saw an email in my mailbox about my ticket being booked. I did not read it. The next day, I got another email, saying that since I had not booked the ticket that I had reserved, the ticket was canceled. I somehow failed to complete the process required for booking a ticket.
It was déjà vu all over again. This time, the flight that cost 25,000 miles I had previously booked was gone. The good news was that I managed to book a ticket that was actually more convenient. The bad news was that it cost the same 37,500 miles as my original ticket. Untold hours and wailing and gnashing of teeth after I had started the process, I was back where I had started.
[NOTE: This happened weeks ago. As I write this, I’m in San Francisco, and it’s pretty awesome. ]
I got up pretty early. The parking lot was empty. I had breakfast at a little truck stop before getting out of Greater St. Louis.
This was going to be another long day, but as I passed through southern Illinois I thought that a stop in Metropolis would be a worthwhile diversion. Walden needed to be photographed in front of the Man of Steel.
Just before noon I pulled into Kentucky. As it turns out, Kentucky is a good place to buy bourbon. On my trip in September, I had found a great little discount liquor store where bottles of rotgut bourbon were cheaper than wine in Utah. Better still, really nice bottles of bourbon were also available for a song. In retrospect, I wish that had I spent a bit more time to find my favorite Kentucky liquor store, because I am not that sure that I got that great a deal. Nonetheless, buying bourbon seemed like a fine thing to do in Kentucky.
Sometime after I had crossed the Tennessee border and stopped for gas, I noticed a bit more oil under Walden than should be there in a quick refueling. I topped up the oil, bought a couple of spare quarts, and hoped we would make it back to Knoxville. Still en route, I got on the phone and made an appointment with the best VW mechanic in Knoxville for the following Monday morning.
By about 6:30 I had arrived at my friend’s house in Knoxville. Hugs were exchanged and beers were opened. For most of the next week, I would be in one of the places that I call home.
Having gone to bed pretty early the previous night. I awoke not long after five. I lounged a bit, listening to NPR. By 5:30 I had managed to get clothes on, the curtains open, and myself in the driver’s seat.
Google thought that I was twenty hours from Knoxville. My goal was to make it to St. Louis, a bit more than halfway. It would be a long day, but I figured that worst case I could make it halfway and pull over and sleep at a truck stop or a Walmart.
I started making my way through the last several months of This American Life. I have the podcasts downloaded automatically and copied them to a USB drive that I stuck in my car stereo so that I would not have to worry about spotty data coverage. With the dulcet tones of Ira Glass’s stories, Kansas came around surprisingly quickly.
The stories continued. There is a whole lot of nothing between Ft. Collins and St. Louis.
Eventually I made it to Missouri. Though there were road signs that would imply that something might be nearby, I am pretty sure they are just suggestions that there is something far away.
Mom, who had been following not only my travels via Google Latitude, but also traffic patterns along my projected route called to tell me that there was a huge storm front coming my way. It looked as if I would hit it soon and would be in the rain all of the next day. This seemed like all the more reason to push on through as far as possible on this day.
Thankfully, it was very late in the day when I hit the rain. I saw it coming, though and wildly snapped shots of it through the window at sixty miles per hour. I finally pulled off the highway and took a few shots. It was a full 180 degrees, and for a good portion of it, the second rainbow was also visible. Were I a real photographer, I would have a wider lens and could have gotten the whole spectrum in all its beauty.
Backward from the way I learned it in the Bible, soon after the rainbow, the sun went down and the rain started. When I first got Walden I did not like driving at night or in the rain. The headlights were miserably dim and the faulty seal on the windshield allowed water to drip on my feet. Pretty early on I figured out that the window gasket was the problem and I coated it with black caulk. Then, last summer, I installed an awesome light kit, which included relays allowing me to almost double the wattage of the bulbs and also instructed me to improve the ground, allowing even more juice to illuminate my path. The new headlights are twice as bright as the originals. Now driving at night in a pouring rain was not so bad.
I called ahead to the Schlafly taproom to see what time the kitchen closed. Nine O’clock. I thought I might make it, or maybe I could be close enough that I could call and order something a few minutes before my arrival. That was not to be, however, it was close to 10:30 when I pulled in to the Schlafly parking lot. It was a long day.
I closed the curtains and made the bed. By the time I emerged, the rain had stopped.
That day was a long drive. May 30
The trip from Logan, Utah to Knoxville, Tennessee is 1800 miles. Google reports a trip time of 28 hours. Google takes into account speed limit and, being especially clever, adverse traffic conditions. It does not, however, take into account 1985 Volkswagen Vanagons that really should not go faster than 65 miles per hour, and, when going up hill, can be substantially slower still. When I started my life in Walden, I tried not to drive more than five hours a day. Especially when I was new at figuring out where to stay for the night, I liked to get wherever I was going with plenty of time to scout out a place to stay the night. Now that I have parked in residential neighborhoods, city streets, truck stops, and, my favorite, brewery parking lots in dozens of towns, finding a place to sleep causes no angst whatsoever. For this trip, most of which I had done in reverse back in September, I already had the breweries scoped out and was looking forward to revisiting them. The trip out to Utah took me five days, including an extra day in Fort Collins. I was going to try to make this trip in three days, shaving a full day off my previous trip’s four driving days.
I managed to get on the road pretty close to 8:30, even after I turned in my keys and parking permit to Utah State University and bought the last breakfast taco at my favorite Gas Station Mexican place. I drove up the canyon, passing by Beaver Mountain Ski Area, which had been my terminus every other time I had driven up this road from Logan. Before long I had reached the Wyoming border, where I had stopped on the other side of the road when I arrived in Utah in September.
Somewhat to my surprise, after eight months, the road back to Colorado looked pretty familiar. As I rounded a turn, I remembered a place where I had stopped to see if I could find some fossils, across the street was a train track where a train had derailed.
There is lot of nothing in the West, and it seems to like it that way. Derelict buildings in various states of dilapidation are a common site. I snapped a photograph of what is left of a town called Virginiadale. In another 10 or 20 years the cold winters with piles of snow and blazing hot summers will reduce this old post office to a pile of rubble.
At 6:30, about ten hours after the commencement of my voyage, I arrived in Fort Collins, which had been my last stop before arriving in Logan last fall. Though I was ready for a beer, this ten hour trek was fairly comfortable.
I headed straight for New Belgium Brewing company. When I had traveled through in September, their beautiful little pub had free beer. I have been to bars that had a sign saying “Free Beer Tomorrow,” but in this futuristic land, every day was tomorrow. It was my understanding that it was easier for New Belgium to give beer away than to get whatever license was required to sell beer at the brewery. Even in a state that has legalized buying and selling an agricultural product that is a Federal felony to traffic, it is still difficult to sell alcohol legally.
When I ordered my first beer, however, the cute bartender asked for four dollars. Ah, well, New Belgium had returned to the present. Nevertheless, I knew that the beer was going to be quite delicious, and four dollars was quite a reasonable sum. She refused my tip, however, explaining that everyone who works there is an owner and that no gratuity was necessary. I was welcome to donate the money to some charity, but no tips are accepted. No more free beer, but there at least tips were still free.
I strolled around looking for a place to sit or someone that I might engage in conversation; I ended up on the phone with my mother. Mom too had visited New Belgium on her own Westward trip in a motorized home. I soon returned to the bar where I overheard a barkeep explaining that all of the money collected in exchange for beer was donated to charity. They had found a way to collect money. I supposed that though the money exchange had no effect on the coffers, it did have a positive affect on the clientele they attracted.
Before long a group came by my spot at the bar wanting tasters of every single beer–and the dubbels and trippels too! I said “Oh, I want to party with you.” And party we did. Before I knew it they were giving me tastes of all of their beers. I did not ask, but presumed that they had nothing orally communicable. Besides, no known pathogen can survive in beer.
It was time to move on, so I headed for Funkwerks, where Walden and I had stayed in the previous September. It was not that late, but, alas, they were closed. Next I tried Equinox, where I had met the people driving a bus to Alaska when I was on my trip, but it too was shuttered. It seemed like a sign that I should go to bed early, so I walked back across the street to Walden. I had already readied for bed, so I crawled into the sheets and went to sleep.
Well, gentle reader, in an unexpected turn of events, I am moving to San Francisco. I will be working as a Social Science Research Associate at Stanford University, rejoining the research group that I worked with when I wrote my dissertation. I will be living three doors down from the house where I last cohabited with the woman to whom I was once married.
My original plan for the move was to sell Blue (Walden’s brother), drive Walden to San Francisco, and park him long term at my sister’s place outside the city. Living in San Francisco, I would not need a car. When I did, I could do the Zip Car thing. Paying $10/hour for a car would be much cheaper than dealing with parking and insurance and maintenance. Having a car in a city is a lot of work. Planning to visit friends and family in Birmingham and to reconnect with friends and belongings in Knoxville, I booked a Delta Rewards ticket from SLC to BHM. Exactly how to get from Birmingham to Knoxville and back was a problem I figured I could solve easily enough.
In the hour that followed booking the round trip ticket from SLC to BHM, I ordered a Really Big Duffel Bag to transport to the West whatever treasures unearthed in my upcoming archaeological dig in my storage unit. A few minutes after booking my ticket, it occurred to me that the apartment that I plan to sublet has a dedicated parking spot, and that I will be traveling to a dozen schools around San Francisco, and that doing that on a bicycle or a Zip Car or public transportation would likely be a bit of a chore. Having a car could actually be pretty handy. Since I got Walden, I have thought that it would be pretty fun to say that I spent a week or a month living in Walden before getting a place to live, especially when I will likely be paying well over TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH for an apartment, but having Walden as a daily driver in San Francisco is a bad idea. Blue would be a fine car to bang around the city.
I adjusted my plan. I would drive Walden to Birmingham, via Knoxville, park Walden in a carport, fly back to Utah, then move to San Francisco in Blue.
No, I am not ready to sell Walden.
Though I have not spent that many nights in Walden in the past year, with the exception of a couple trips, Walden has been my home and companion since I moved out of The Rental on May 1, 2011. Oft has been the time that I have been at someone’s house and they have needed something (e.g., a knife sharpener, some truffle salt or olive oil, a blow torch, or a stove) and I have said, “No problem, I can just run home and get one.” When “home” is in the driveway, that is pretty convenient, and, for me, the joke never gets old. (Arguably I have only about five jokes.) In Utah I did have the bulk of my clothes and daily necessities in the house and unpacked, but I would still run out to Walden for this or that every now and then. For the first time in two years, I was going to be without Walden.
Planning to be without Walden for a year and move from Utah to San Francisco in Blue, the 2002 Subaru Outback, was going to require a change in mindset. What is in Walden that I need? What stuff that is in the house needs to be in Walden and not in San Francisco? What do I do with my skis? I thought that I could fit all my clothes and musical instruments into the Subaru, but I really had no idea how much space that stuff would take up. To start to figure that out, I removed almost everything from my room and put it in a pile in the living room. It looked like it would fit into Blue. Or so I hoped.
I packed a bunch of stuff that I planned to leave in Walden in Birmingham. It could be handy to leave enough clothes there that I could just show up there without really packing anything. I liked the notion of Walden functioning as my pied-à-terre in the Southeast. I would not be needing many shorts or short-sleeved shirts in San Francisco. I retrieved my frying pans and kitchen accouterments from the Utah kitchen and returned them to their respective homes in Walden.
I was ready to begin what might be my last trip in Walden.
One day in February, tired of feeling limited by Utah’s slippery roads, I decided that Walden really needed snow tires. The mid-1980s Vanagons have a rather odd size tire that can be hard to find. I phoned a number of tire places, did research on the internet, and finally decided that I would just drive up Main Street, stop at every tire place, see what they had to offer and get whatever seemed best.
As I was making the rounds, I found myself pulled into a used car dealership. I walked in, asked the Used Car Salesman if he had any Subarus for about $5000. It turned out that they had some Subarus, and some cars that cost about $5000, but nothing that met both of those criteria. The next thing I knew I was sitting in a 2002 Subaru Outback. As I did the test drive, I noticed that it had a few things that Walden did not. It could accelerate from zero to fifty in well under a minute. It had a functional heater blower. It had all wheel drive. It had windows that would raise and lower at the touch of a button. It had a functional heater blower. It had locks that would lock and unlock at the touch of a button, there was even a button that would do that from outside of the car. It was like magic. It had a functional heater blower.
It was cold, so very cold. I checked Kelly Blue Book to see that the value was in line with someone else’s reality. It was. I checked with a friend to see that my desire to buy are car instead of snow tires was in line with someone else’s reality. It was. I wrote a check. I drove home in a car with a functional heater blower. It was warm. I even had to turn the heat down. The next day I got Walden back home and figured out how to fit Walden and his new brother, Blue, in the driveway.
On Blue’s first trip to The Beav, I played guitar where I got $45 in tips plus a lift ticket. As I was rolling out of the parking lot I touched the brakes and noticed that not only did I not slow down, but also I was going so slowly that the anti-lock brakes were unaware that we were sliding. There was a truck not far in front of me. I honked, hoping that he would move out of the way so that I would not hit him. He remained in place. I tried to pull up parallel to him. I had some success, but started to turn sideways. I considered opening the door and sticking my foot out, Flintstone’s style. I decided that my snow boots probably would not be any more effective than Blue’s four tires. By this time I was perpendicular to the truck and still moving. Finally my rear bumper struck the side of his truck and I came to a stop. I was happy that I had remembered to purchase insurance the day before, which was two days after I had purchased the car.
I am not much of a numerologist, when Blue’s license place arrived, I was pleased to see that his new license place was pronounceable. It would have been creepy if I had chosen it myself, but for weeks it made me giggle every time I approached the car. I still snicker every now and then.
Similarly, I am not a huge fan of putting stickers on my car, but along the way a few have seemed worthy of a place on the back window, especially since part of it is obscured by the cabinetry in the back anyway. Blue has not (yet?) been to 30A, but he did get a Beaver sticker.
Though having a car with heat and snow tires was darned handy for the first quarter of this year, it puts a significant limit on my mobility. Sure, I could still have everything out of the house in, say, an hour or more, but neither vehicle has the means or wherewithal to tow the other.
Things are getting more complicated. I have a storage unit in Knoxville, a couple guitars and robotic floor cleaners in Birmingham, a desktop computer in Santa Rosa Beach, and, if I were to drive Walden out of here, a Subaru filled with ski equipment and three day passes * to Beaver Mountain, in Logan, Utah.
For the past year and a half, one of the odd things about my life has been that when people ask the normally innocuous questions, “Where do you live?” and “What do you do?” my answer has been, well, complicated. For the six months that I really did live in Walden, especially when I was in places like National Parks, the “I live in my van” answer was credible both to me and people I met. Since Thanksgiving of 2011, though, I have not lived in my van. I have lived out of my van. That is, for the most part, I have slept in houses, but I have not had with me more stuff than I could carefully load back into Walden in an hour or two. Even when I stayed at the same house in Florida for three consecutive months, I did not live there, at least in my head.
Similarly, though I have no visible means of support, I still have a tidy little nest egg of insurance money. Though I have done some research on a couple ways to make some money, I have not really tried that hard. While technically, I am unemployed, except a couple of potential jobs that someone recommended me for, I have not been looking for a job.
So when I am asked where I live and what I do, I do not have a quick answer. Sometimes I answer that I live wherever I am and do whatever I want. That is pretty much the truth, though people seem to have a hard time taking that answer seriously, at least not without further explanation.
This past September I went to visit my best friend from graduate school. She had just taken a job at Utah State University and had grants that she could use my help with. In grad school I had begun to pioneer some ideas and techniques about collecting data from kids as they were learning and creating visualizations of what a classroom of students know. These things seemed really cool, but I could not envision how to pursue them as they did not seem to fit in any research paradigm that I was aware of. A decade later, what I was doing then has grown into what is called educational data mining.
I spent about week at my friend’s house with her and her husband before the place got too small, so I went to stay with another new faculty member whose husband lives out of town. I put a few clothes in a dresser, but kept them in the small little pouches that I use to organize them in Walden’s storage compartment. I had been careful to keep my belongings relegated to the little guest room with its single bed and flowered comforter. The room is lots bigger than Walden, and it still feels good to know that all of my stuff is in one place.
After several weeks, she, apparently feeling had been remiss not to mention it sooner, offered that there was plenty of room in the coat closet should I wish to store a coat or to there. I thanked her for her offer, but assured her that the closet in the guest room was quite big enough.
Thanksgiving came around, and I had planned to go to Birmingham from Thanksgiving until just after Christmas. I had first planned to make the trip in Walden, as I have everywhere I have been since May of 2011. Actually, I took two plane trips to Ecuador, and one to Spain. Wait. You know what else? I left Walden in San Francisco for a weekend when I went to a wedding and in Birmingham for a two week trip to San Francisco. What made those trips different? They were shorter, for one–just a weekend for Philly, and two weeks for San Francisco, and who needs a car in San Francisco? In Birmingham, one needs a car, especially for five weeks and a trip to Knoxville.
It was a hard decision to leave Walden in Utah, but using an envelope I figured that gas alone would be $800. Then I would have two one-week road trips. Though I did enjoy my trip to Utah from Knoxville, unless I were to add another 500 miles or so and another week, there is a whole lot of nothing between Utah and Alabama. A month-long car rental would be prohibitively expensive. My father has two cars, albeit one is older than Walden (and my sister, for that matter). He figured that he could drive the old car and leave me with his Toyota. This seemed unlikely, but I knew that part of the time he would be unable to drive anyway, so I decided to risk it, figuring I could rent a car for part of the time if necessary.
November 19 I boarded the plane for Birmingham with two carry-on bags.