In the past year I have been denied tenure and my house burned down. I now find myself with no spouse, no offspring, no job, no debt, and not much stuff. As I explain below, It’s a beautiful opportunity.
I effectively sold my house and the vast majority of my belongings to the insurance company at a pretty decent profit. In addition to the money for the house and contents, Travelers Insurance is paying for temporary housing, which includes a large house on a beautiful street, two bedrooms of furniture, televisions, couches, kitchen essentials, linens, and a washer and dryer. That all ends on April 30.
I have applied for a number of jobs and remain somewhat optimistic that the perfect job will materialize, and if it does, it will be somewhere other than Knoxville. Given that I’m going to make a long distance move, I see no reason to find a place to live and acquire stuff like a bed and other furniture only to haul it across the country. I therefore have purchased a 1985 VW Vanagon Westfalia (full pop-top, stove, sink) that Thor and I can live in until we have reason to find more stationary lodging.
Throughout my life, I have seen many of my closest friends do things like hitchhike across the US, backpack across Europe, teach English in Asia, spend a summer in Russia, move to Ecuador, or otherwise experience long term travel. I have not. I took a year out of school between high school and college. My high adventure? Working at Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. Part of me thinks that I too should travel in a foreign land, but Thor is old, and if I were to leave the country for some months and have him die here with a stranger seems cruel. I already left him in a burning house.
What I find very interesting is the bimodal distribution of reactions of those whom I tell that I plan to live in a van, down by the river (and if you do not recognize the allusion to a Chris Farley skit on Saturday Night Live, you should definitely follow the preceding link). For example, I mentioned this to a clerk at a sporting goods store today and he said “congratulations.” Someone whom I pay to support my mental health has told me, in no uncertain terms, that indoor plumbing is a very good thing. Another mental health care professional thinks it’s a fantastic idea and that not living in a van for at least a few months would be a frivolous waste of an opportunity. Others have told me explicitly or implicitly, that I surely have taken leave of my senses, like a recent text message from a friend:
“You are really going to do this, aren’t you?”
I suggested that if it turned out that Thor and I don’t like the camper we could, for example, rent an apartment.
“You do realize that you and Thor could live with us any time, right?”
I’m not planning to live in a camper because I have no alternatives. I am planning to live in a camper because I can.
Losing the bulk of my belongings due to the fire was strangely liberating. All of those old hard drives, power adapters, random computer parts, books, hundreds of albums, and all manner of stuff that I can’t even name, is now gone. I don’t own a TV, a bed, a couch, or a dining room table. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to live with only what will comfortably fit into the camper.
I’ve driven across the country twice, once from Nashville to San Francisco, via New York (for a family member’s wedding) and subsequently from San Francisco to Knoxville, for the job that I am about to leave. I think we made the NYC to San Francisco trip in under five days. San Francisco to Knoxville may have been in as few as three. I live in a big country. I’ve had the good fortune to live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont, Nashville, San Francisco, and Knoxville and experience some fairly different cultures (given that they were all in the same country, I mean). I have traveled, mostly for conferences, to most the biggest cities, but there is much that I have not seen. I haven’t seen the grand canyon. I haven’t seen . . . well, I don’t really know what else I haven’t seen. I’m planning to try to figure that out.