“You’re the most bizarre volunteer we have.”
“Really?” I asked. Connie was the volunteer coordinator at KCRW, a radio station in Los Angeles, so I suppose she would know, but having met many of the other volunteers, I had my doubts.
“Yeah. Because you come in here and you look all normal, but you drive up from San Diego and you’re living in your car. And it’s all so you can volunteer here!”
She did have a point. I drove back to San Diego while I was volunteering at KCRW because I had a job there. The job was boring and temporary but it paid really well and I wanted to milk it for as long as possible. So I spent half the week in San Diego, living at my parents’ and then half the week in Los Angeles, living in my car.
“What about ___, and ___?” I named a couple of volunteers I felt were more bizarre than me.
“Well, yeah, but I had to let them go.”
“Stalking the DJs?”
She paused a moment. “Pretty much.”
“Am I so bizarre that you’re going to have to fire me?”
“No, you’re not dangerous-bizarre. Just bizarre-bizarre. C’mon, living in your car? You’re definitely the most bizarre person here.”
“So am I the cut-off point? Any volunteer more bizarre than me has to go?” I kind of liked that idea.
“Yeah. That sounds about right.”
That conversation took place a little more than 4 years ago. It was really the first time I started considering that perhaps my approach to breaking into radio was coming off as a bit … well, bizarre.
Admittedly, this life took a bit of getting used to: I had to find safe places to stay at night and cool places to stay during the summer days — but it was free, and that mattered most. And it was only for three nights a week. Getting an apartment for three nights a week was silly, and staying in a hotel would cost just as much. Sleeping in the car, either at campgrounds or in grocery store parking lots seemed the obvious option.
Obvious to me, at least. Connie’s declaration of my bizarreness was my first hint that perhaps other people didn’t see it that way.
Eventually, I moved up to Los Angeles and started getting jobs in radio that actually paid. I rented one cheap apartment (at least cheap for Los Angeles), and as happy as I was to finally have an apartment I began wondering if it was worth it.
I began reading stories about people who lived full-time in their cars, vans or RVs. I interviewed a friend of a friend who had lived in his car for two years, not because he didn’t have the money for an apartment, but because he didn’t think any apartment was worth the money it cost in Los Angeles.
A year and a half later I moved to an apartment with a 10-minute commute and a great roommate, but it cost $900 a month in rent (and yes, that was just my share, and yes, that was cheap for the area). During the three weeks between moving out of the first apartment and then into the second I tried out living in my car again.Up to that point I’d lived in my car for three months and had no problems, but it was only for three days a week. The rest of the week I spent at my parents’ house. I could sleep in a bed, shower whenever I wanted, and raid the pantry before taking off again for Los Angeles. What had bothered me most about living that way was not the sleeping in the car, but driving between the two cities.
So I tried it again for three weeks while looking for a new apartment and during those three weeks I realized I was hooked. While I planned to stay in my apartment for the next year or so, I knew I’d eventually move back into my car. I’m happy to say I’ve been houseless — though certainly not homeless — since July 2007. I still work in Los Angeles radio, but only about 5 months out of the year. I live cheap and even working only 5 months of the year I’m still saving money for the time when I quit work all together and travel full-time. In the meantime, I get to spend 7 months of the year wandering around, seeing the country, visiting old friends, and meeting new people.
Yeah, I can see how you might call that bizarre. I call it fun.