How I Ended Up On The Road

As I imagine you probably know if you’re here in the first place, I am a fan supported, backer sustained American artist/coach/weirdo who travels somewhat indefinitely in their van. Since 2015 I am making my way in loops around the U.S. making music, images, paintings, performances, rants, stories, word salads, connection, disconnection, inspiration, recovery, and a bunch of other random intangible stuff.

In-depth updates, pictures, behind the scenes commentary, vlogs, performance/art development notes, campfire stories, and FREE SHIT are included in my monthly mailer for recurring supporters!

Prologue


Though I stopped being able to afford Seattle, my home of 17 years, as a small downtown massage business owner around 2009, I stayed another 6 years in part due to my dual-income relationships. In 2014, when my “sex positive” tech money poly fuckpile imploded, remaining in or even near the city long-term quickly became impossible.

The Tiny House

I had been squirreling away for a tiny house since 2012, so when shit hit the fan, I had about 1/3 of what I needed for my basic build: enough to hammer out a box frame on wheels with no walls or amenities, and with no way to haul it.

I looked for rooms within my budget and was finding only squalor, shared rooms, and houses with large portions of important parts missing – like, say, the roof.

I’d also found that my anarchocommie, freshly-rewoke ass just couldn’t reconcile spending all I had managed to save in years of dreaming about my own mobile place, onto to spend it on 6 more months of friggen Seattle rent.

I’d been searching my social net for somewhere stable to base out of, but no one I knew had a plot of land or was able to host me long term while I built up anything substantial.

Time ticked on, and need for reliable shelter loomed faster than the money could be saved, even with the gift of winter in the shed.

Dec 2, 2014 — CJ and I are moved into the shed, and it’s basically heavenly. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, it’s just the right size of a project. It seems I could in fact actually have a much smaller tiny house than I had anticipated having, presuming I had access to a shower somewhere.. but life has occurred, business is slow, and I’m once again off track to having the finances to build in the spring when it’s time to move again.

I’m trying to settle into the 6 months of solace but am finding it difficult to do that, cause 6 months isn’t a long time. I’m so weary of moving and scrambling around.

It’s looking like I’ll be shooting again for a van or an RV or fucking something and will have to pare down even more than I already have — but for now, I’m enjoying living on my own, and how cozy/comfortable this tiny space ended up being. So much thanks to J and P for putting me up a while.

Bella Stinkbutt

After months of research on various options and facing the cold, hard reality of what kind of RV a few thousand PNW bucks can get you, I chose to spend most of my savings buying a somewhat shady 2002 Chevy Express 3500 with 180k miles on it from an also somewhat shady hacker friend for… $2600. Snrk 🙂

The van option meant giving up my cat to a foster situation (which eventually turned into a fucking-asshole-stole-my-cat situation) while collectively mourning the demise of virtually every figment of my life including 4 of my closest relationships. I’m grinning with my tongue sticking out cuz power tools and metal fabrication and I’m a fucking geek; but it was not exactly a joyous decision to make at the time. Inside I was sick with grief, overwhelmed in poverty mindset, and horrified by the perceived bleakness of my future. How the fuck was I going to do ANY of this shit?

Many thanks to Chris (pictured) who facilitated my sleeping platform, TP for selling me the rig, and my Tiny House contributors John H. $70, Phil B. $50, Scott S. $51.50, Sam L. $30, Eric B. $8, Shatter N. $23 (to get me to $1337. \m/ \m/ ), Edgars K. $50, Jason S. $40, Peter V. $35, Andy G. $25, Aaron B. $100, Michael D. $100, Craig Y. $20, Cris T. $250, whose generosity helped enable me to move into the van when I was out of time and options.

MY FIRST ROAD YEAR

In May of 2015, after recording and releasing Keep Going in the shed, I left Seattle alone, hissing and angry and empty, in search of some other place on the continent that felt like it could be another one some day.

I was gone nearly a year, within which I:

  1. Performed a short internship at The Bosque Village, a permaculture pine forest in Central Mexico, where I experienced having killed, plucked, gutted, cooked, and eaten my first animal; all in a single day.
  2. Met and worked with amazing creatives like Doc Otis (Tour buddies), The Free Range Reveleers (Musical duo), Louis Maistros (Photographer and author of The sound of Building Coffins), and discovered the Green Door Music Hall.
  3. Performed an 8 week session of Camp Half Blood, an immersive environmental theater camp based on the Percy Jackson universe..
  4. Released Decatur, produced by Mark Bingham after he was sent a video of my busking in New Orleans and invited me to spend 4 days in his studio recording the album.
  5. Traveled through 19 states (performing 7 cities and 13 shows in 3 of them).
  6. Made, with the exception of Camp Half Blood which payed very fairly, impressively little money.

During this first tour I had largely rolled into towns with a loose schedule, hitting up open mics and finding out how much more sleep one needs while living on the road.  My Patreon ensured I was never stranded or starved, however after doing my postmortem tour numbers, I was stone cold suicidal for two weeks. I returned to Seattle defeated, exhausted, depleted, with my tail firmly tucked between my legs.


April 27, 2016 – One thing that nearly a year on the road has shown me: There is nowhere.

There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere to outrun patriarchy. There is nowhere to outrun capitalism. Nowhere to feel safe. Nowhere to feel comfortable. It’s gone, along with my blissful ignorance. Anywhere I go will be touched by it, if not in any other way than by my being present there.

Another thing that nearly a year on the road has shown me: It is damn near fucking impossible for a person to understand something when their survival depends on them not understanding it.

YEAR 2: WASH, RINSE, REPEAT

After spending the summer based in Seattle, contracting in environmental restoration with DirtCorps, working urban agriculture on City Soil Farm, and pouring a bunch of cash into tuning up the van, I did a small photography tour of the west (ORANGE pins).

Much of this trip was back country single lane mountain dirt, until my alternator crapped out on me suddenly not 10 minutes after I’d hit pavement again for the first time in three days, 80 miles away from the nearest shop.

After two days camping in a Burns, OR parking lot on labor day weekend and a $600 bill once they opened, I spent a good amount of time less inclined to do those types of project tours with this van. Which was, frankly, the whole damn reason to be living bent over and babywiping in the first damn place. I was not amused.

After being gifted a month-long Christmas with friends in Sweden, sleeping many long dark days and recovering from the shithouse 2016 election, in January of 2017 I hit the road again for Cold Front Tour (AQUA pins).

My time with Doc Otis during this trip was magnificent, filling me with hope and ideas. I wrote a lot of the songs on Cold Front during this time, made a little more money, and the van made it through the tour, thankfully.

Then it had its two major breakdowns ($500 brake line rusted through in Austin,  $900 fuel pump which is inside the fuel tank requiring both to be replaced in LA) and had lost two of its 8 cylinders for unknown reasons on the drive back (RED pins). I thought, sailing back to my reluctant port a second year of taking on water, that I was living what would be the end of the van and my transient life about the country.

Floating on emergency credit, I was traumatized and thoroughly freaked out, my confidence in Bella Stinkbutt all but used up. I’d ripped all my stickers off of it, officially broken up with it emotionally, and contemplated scraping it on the road multiple times — which is not a fun prospect when you’re driving your house, and frankly,  your closest friend, too.

Upon return, thankfully to the soft landing of a few months in another friends guest shed, I found that the engine missing was caused by a melted spark plug wire when a heat shield had broken off — an easy fix for what many had estimated was nothing short of disaster.

That summer, through the encouragement of gear friendly friends, I finally learned to do quite a bit of maintenance on the van myself; and in August of 2017 I was helped along by a significant gift from a well-off patron which paid my debts and enabled me to think clearly about what to do next.

Combined with the odd jobs and artistic collaborations which bolstered my confidence as well as my financial situation, I had significantly reduced my ambient stress levels and had a bit of savings again; Not enough to significantly upgrade my diggs mind you, but enough so that when fall rolled around again I went out for another road year in Stinkbutt when I’d all but vowed not to months before.

ROADLIFE: YEAR 3

My third year, Roadkill Tour, started off with the van dumping massive amounts of coolant while driving over Snoqualmie pass my first day out.

The most notable thing about that situation was the absence of the years of intense fear I’d become accustomed to feeling whenever the van sounded weird or started acting sickly. I didn’t feel the cloud of hopelessness holding the tears behind my face. I didn’t immediately freak out about the money it was going to cost, or even about the $18 I spent on coolant to get over that pass. I just did what had to be done and kept stopping to replace fluids until I could get somewhere safe and take a closer look.

It turned out to be a hose replacement that I was able to do in a friends driveway for about $40, including the coolant. Between facebook, vidchats  and IRL help, at least 4 people were involved including myself. It felt like a win in a lot of ways.

 The remainder of the 2017/2018 year didn’t exactly go as planned, but in terms of my immediate needs — food, shelter, decent people to talk to occasionally, the van not dying on me — it’s been a breeze this time. I:

  1. Used my AAA three times the first year, 5 times the second, and ZERO times the third.
  2. Finally got hooked up with a solar geek to help me get the right stuff to install a secondary electrical system, being newly able to use lights to see at night without giving myself an ulcer about the van starting the next fuckin morning.
  3. Recorded and released Cold Front in Los Alamos
  4. Played many experimental music shows in Florida with people like Karisha Shaw and QWERTY, and…
  5. After two years of emergency shitting in plastic bags, this was the year I got a plastic boat toilet. Hashtag progress.

WHAT’S NEXT:

I am again in Seattle now, pet sitting and sleeping a lot, recovering from some long term upper respiratory bug and trying very hard to stretch another tiny savings. This time the tall order is to expand into a situation where I have room enough to a) stand upright and b) can sleep, eat, practice music, paint, and offer sessions in my living space.

This is a constant game of mental gymnastics as I keep my eye out for multiple solutions: from an ice cream truck to a roof raise and a trailer to pull behind Bella. But what is very clear is that after 3 years I need to figure out how to stretch and reintegrate recovery into what I bring with me wherever I go, and that means having a house on my back that I can truly make into a home.

All in all, one absolute constant is that I am so fucking fuckass thankful for my supporters, financiers, collaborators, sustainers, friends, fans, and clients, who have never failed to step in and help me when and how they could. And I am relieved for now with how often I find I am thinking to myself “hot damn, I might actually be getting the hang of this.”

>>> Things I’ve learned on the road