Yes, I am crazy.
In this extra-long post, I’ll be explaining “the how” and “the why” (with some stories mixed in) behind my 60-day journey of voluntary poverty and alternative lifestyle experimentation. Basically, I’ll explain how and why I lived like a homeless person in the bed of my truck for 60 days even though I didn’t have to.
Let’s start with the how.
Acquiring a Vehicle
Following my return home from three months of travel on the west coast, I had this determination to live frugally and freely (See “The Why”). I began scouring Craigslist for van conversions. My plan, sell my 2007 Impala, buy an old van, toss a futon bed in the back, install a solar panel kit and weatherproof my new wheels to the max. However, as the upcoming semester came nearer, my dream van seemed like it wasn’t going to show itself in time. I settled for throwing an industrial camper top on the bed of a ’93 Ford F-150 that my family already owned. I slid my futon mattress in the back and convinced myself that this would do until I got the “dream van”. #vanlife. Little did I know that this would be my “home” for exactly 60 days.
The first 2 weeks were certainly the hardest. Although, it’s amazing how quickly our minds adapt to the new “normal”. The first item of business upon arriving at the campus was finding a place to park. This first week was split evenly between the James parking lot and a quiet corner in student parking by facilities. I sustained myself on McDonald’s and junk food this first week while I got settled in. After grace period for parking ended (a period where you can’t get parking tickets for being in the “wrong” lot), I bought my red “Town” decal which limited my parking to only 2 lots on campus. I settled for the Seabury Gym lot by the tennis courts. This is where I would stay for the next 53 days.
Those first few days were nerve-racking. I couldn’t help but feel like I was breaking some sort of rule. “What if Public Safety finds out?”, “What will other students or my professors think if they find out?” For these reasons, I wasn’t particularly vocal about my living arrangements and spent much of the first weeks trying to enter and leave the truck when no one was around to see. However, I began to see this kind of behavior as unhealthy, so I gradually stopped caring what people thought and went about my business as I would if I were all alone. Sometimes this meant crawling out in the morning when people are playing tennis about 15 feet from my door in clear view. Not exactly easy to play off emerging from the back of a truck looking sleepy and disheveled.
Ping Pong and Gone
Like every other Friday night, I could be found slamming ping pong balls in the campus recreation room. This was towards the beginning of the semester. I had been used to leaving the truck camper unlocked because I didn’t have a key to lock it. I had recently gotten a key made but still stuck to my habbit of leaving it unlocked.
I left the truck at 9 pm that evening to play ping pong and returned at 11 and went straight to sleep. After I woke up the following Saturday and got my shower, I noticed that I couldn’t find my laptop. Upon some reflection, I realized that I had left the laptop in the truck in plain sight with the doors unlocked. It was likely stolen. Upon further inspection, I noticed the thief also made off with my battery pack for charging my phone.
I was pissed. The stolen laptop was a year old, beat up, covered in stickers and it had a hole in the lid. I paid $175 for it and it was probably worth less than $25 at the time it was stolen. Also, without my $10 battery pack, I couldn’t charge my phone at night, so that was a huge inconvenience.
If they had searched the vehicle, they would have found $500 in cash and a DLSR camera. Instead, they stole a laptop without the charger (the charger will cost more than the laptop is worth) and a cheap $10 battery. They took the things that were worth the least but inconvenienced me the most.
I still miss my old laptop. But my new one costs just as much and it is able to play Minecraft, so I’m mostly over it.
Food was a challenge at first. I had a cooler but never invested in ice. It was mainly to keep the bugs away. I quickly realized that 90% of the grocery section was off limits since I had no refrigeration or oven/microwave. All I had in the way of cooking supplied was a small pot, pan, spatula, fork, and a portable butane stove.
Luckily, I found the Berea College Farm Store and quickly became a lunchtime regular. I had a nutrition shake and apple for breakfast and soup or beans for dinner which I cooked on my gas stove atop the aluminum bleachers by the tennis courts. For a time, I had set up inbox rules for my school email to automatically sort campus emails with words like “free food”, “dinner”, etc. into a separate folder. That way I could find events providing dinners and not get burnt out on soup!
I had planned on showering in the Seabury Gym which was just a short hike up some stairs from my truck. Using those showers was not unlike showering in the dorms; if anything, the locker room was less crowded during the 30 mins before 8 AM. Ony difference was the occasional shameless old man who insisted on having a conversation with me while he dried his genitals with a paper towel. He told me about his time in the military; stories of how he and others would kill and cook anything that crawled after rations ran out back in ‘Nam. Once, he recommended that I enlist. He told me I’d have to “toughen up” first.
Bathrooms were only in short supply at night. I kept a jug in the truck which I emptied into a storm drain at night when the parking lot cleared. Thankfully, I only needed a proper toilet on one occasion and made the treck to the only open building on campus, Woods Penn.
I got plenty of exercise riding my bike. I preferred to travel around town by bike so as not to move the truck and risk disturbing my set up. I suppose becoming a regular at the gym should have been easy since I literally lived in the gym’s parking lot. However, once I began to live this minimal lifestyle, I began seeing the things that society sees as “necessary” as toys, trinkets, and gadgets. Similarly, when I passed by the weight room in the gym, all I could see were a bunch of boys playing with toys and getting all hard about how they looked in front of a mirror.
I instead developed a routine of body weight exercises that I did 3-4 times per week. Usually right before bed. I would walk laps around the empty tennis courts. At one corner, I’d do a set of pushups, at the next, a set of pull-ups (using the horizontal fence posts above the gated openings of the courts as a pull up bar), the next corner, I’d do squats (using a wooden bench as added weight hoisted above my head), and in the last corner stretches. No gym membership, no toys, no testosterone-fueled chauvinism, just results and I’m sure the occasional “what is this crazy person doing at 11 pm?” from passers-by.
“So, do you live here?”
In my 60 days living out of a parking lot, only two strangers confronted me about it. Both interactions were nearly identical so I’ll just describe the first one.
I’m walking back to my truck and a 30-something dude is walking towards his car which is parked near me.
“Hey, do you live here?”
“Dude, that’s awesome. I hate paying rent and that’s so good for the environment, I’ve always wanted to do somthing like that!, etc.”
That’s how both encounters went.
Not wanting to bother any of my dorm-dwelling friends, I soon began waiting outside the Deep Green Dorm during weekends around noon. Students would be leaving in droves to get lunch after sleeping in, and I would walk in after they opened the door. It helped that I lived in Deep Green last year, so I wasn’t a stranger to most. Deep Green is special because I only had to get past one card swipe door to get to a laundry room.
My labor position allows me to work anywhere there is internet so I spent a LOT of time in school’s library. That’s not to say I spent all that time working as I fell REALLY far behind on hours. Usually, I would churn through homework while episodes of South Park play through the earbuds connected to my phone.
Starting a Side Hustle
Looking to make some extra cash, I sourced parts from China and assembled hundreds of badge holders which I listed on eBay. I ran the whole operation out of my truck. I sense another post explaining this venture more thoroughly.
The weather in Berea from mid-August to mid-October was actually quite favorable. I would spend afternoons reading books for class next to my truck in a fold-out lawn chair. Of course, I spent every Friday night sharpening my ping-pong skills with the guys.
One night, I was chilling outside the truck in my lawn chair while reading a book and munching on an apple.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a raccoon running past me. “Hmm, a raccoon”, I thought nothing more. Then another ran by in the same path, and another, and another. Four raccoons in total.
I thought it was a bit strange but I wasn’t worried until one of the critters noticed me and turned around.
The little guy began crawling towards me. I tried to shew it off with some sudden movements. He wasn’t phased, eyeing the half-eaten apple in my hand and coming closer. I wasn’t about to risk a fracas with a raccoon so I ran for about 20 feet and threw my apple in the opposite direction.
As I hope has been clear, I slept in my truck. However, I’ll use this section to show off my setup.
Sleep paralysis occurs as a dysfunction of REM sleep where one is aware but unable to move. Usually, it is accompanied by hallucinations and intense feelings of fear. It lasts for only a few minutes.
My first encounter with sleep paralysis occurred while I was living in the truck. I was lying on my right side, head angled down, looking towards the rear hatch. I jolted awake to the sensation of my leg being pulled by a dark, shadowy, and hooded figure who was reaching through the latch, wildly jerking my leg around and grunting unintelligibly. I tried to scream, I tried to fight back, I tried to reach for my knife, but I was frozen. Then, I snapped out of it, sat up, took a sip of water and went back to sleep.
Stop caring what other people think
What’s a couple of questioning looks from middle-aged, country club types at the tennis courts? No matter what you do in life, there will always be a significant population of people who are disgusted by your choices. Stop trying to please the haters and you’ll quickly find the people who think what you are doing is the coolest thing ever. You do you!
Rock bottom isn’t so bad
I had this preconception that running out of money was “game over”. Because of this, I was very stingy, cheap, and stressed a lot about money.
However, after living like I had no money and next to no assets, I slowly realized that this wasn’t true. Life goes on, the potential to make more money is always there if you want it.
Because of this, I have less stress about money, taken more risks, and been more giving to others.
In Touch with Nature & Surroundings
As it turns out, living in a truck means you get to spend a lot of time outside. For someone who spent 3 years living in a dorm, I had explored surprisingly little of Berea’s campus. Once #trucklife began, I was literally living “on” the campus. I saw people more often, was more aware of events and more likely to pause and enjoy a beautiful scene or a lovely day.
Natural rhythm restored
When the sun is your primary light source, you start to go to bed and wake up at reasonable times. I don’t recall having a better sleep in all my life and since I stopped living in the truck, I haven’t been able to replicate it.
No TV, no media center, no internet; just books, homework and a bike. This left lots of room for some much needed thoughtful contemplation.
Adjusting to the “New Normal”
After my experiment, I watch a lot less TV and read a lot more books. Living simply, I began to leave behind habits, behaviors, and anxieties that I otherwise thought were just part of being alive.
Why did I go live in a truck for 60 days? The short answer is because I wanted to. The logical answer is because I was saving money on rent while still collecting the off-campus stipend from Berea. But the real reason is multifaced.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty good life. I never knew what it was like to be hungry or not have a safe and warm place to sleep. However, this cushy life was my “normal” and it’s hard to be thankful for normal.
I felt the need to experience a meager lifestyle if only to better appreciate what I had. Also, as someone who quickly gets tired of one routine, this was a welcome break to the schedule enforced on me by college life. Lastly, it was a personal challenge. I simply wanted to see if I could pull it off, and for how long. I didn’t plan on 60 days, rather, it started getting cold here in Kentucky and I caved in. I came across an excellent deal and now I have a whole house to myself for the rest of my senior year.
The one question I get asked most often is, “Do you miss it?” My unsatisfactory answer: “I miss the good parts.” Perhaps the better question is, “Would you do it again?” to which I will say, “if I do, it won’t be voluntary”.