Reunion in Rhode Island

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Drivin’ on up!

Eunice and I  went on our very first weekend road trip last week!  We went up to visit my Godfather, David who I reconnected with via the power of Facebook.  I haven’t seen him since I was a very young child.  He and his brother moved out to the west coast to pursue a career in bodybuilding.  David has been back in the east coast for an artistic endeavor that’s nearing completion.

As a child, I would occasionally see him in magazines or on television and be so proud to be connected to him in some way even though he was never in my life the way Godfathers were supposed to be.   He was a free-spirited young man living out his dream in L.A. and wasn’t very concerned at that point with fulfilling such a role for a little girl.  It was a great disappointment growing up.

I’m no longer eight years old and since then, had suffered much deeper blows at the hands of family, thus making it easier to put past hurts behind me and reach out to him.  After all, I was still so very intrigued and curious about this distant, mysterious figure that lingered in the background of my life.

I was nervous (something that rarely happens to me anymore), but when I finally saw him, he gave me a warm hug and that feeling quickly went away.  David is definitely what someone would describe as “a character”… charismatic, light-hearted and somewhat eccentric.  People around Providence call him “The Cowboy” because in a sea of conservatively dressed New Englanders, he stands out where ever he goes.

We took his Great Dane out for a long walk and had a good talk about his photography, my plans to venture west, and about the mechanics of life.   He opened his home to me, made me awesome vegan dishes, baked for me, took me out to dinner, took me to the movies… and even made me the subject of an impromptu photo shoot!  David spoiled me rotten the entire weekend.  It was the first time in a very long time that I felt like the center of someone’s attention… almost like a kid!  It was very well needed.

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David and his dog Cowboy

After my weekender, I couldn’t help but feel that some sort of karma had been released from this experience, as I felt so much “lighter and brighter”.  It was a rewarding  first trip in which a connection was reestablished.  It makes me wonder what other connections will be made in the time to come…

Side note:  David may seem familiar to many of you (especially those of  you who came of age during the 80’s & 90’s).  That’s because he’s one half of The Barbarian Brothers!

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How to Lose Your Job in 60 Days

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“I want to go full nomad and be free, but I need to figure out how to get rid of my job first.”  When I say this to people (friends and strangers alike) an almost hysterical look washes over their face, followed by a humorous smirk with a suggestion to just pick up the phone and quit.  I wish it could be that simple… or could it be?  I have a job with a large car dealership as a Web Administrator/Graphic Designer.  I appreciate it, as it’s the best-paying job I’ve ever had (which still isn’t much).  Instead of answering phones all day and watching the clock, I get to use my creativity.  My days and weeks usually sail by.

The peculiar thing is that this job fell into my lap a year ago (my anniversary was last month).  My temp assignment at a hospital abruptly ended two months early, at a time when I really needed the money.  The day after, I was literally sitting on my couch thinking, “What am I going to do now?” when my phone rang. It was my company’s recruiter who found an old resume of mine floating around on Careerbuilder.com.  I quickly went in for two interviews and reported for my first day of work two weeks later!

It was a complete career change for me.  I have a practically useless degree in Psychology and never had any formal training in graphic design or web stuff.  What qualified me for this job were skills that I taught myself running my own perfume business and side projects part-time years ago.  As a budding artisan perfumer, I didn’t have a big budget to work with.  To market my perfumes, I had to create my own packaging, labeling and logos by playing around with Photoshop.  I managed my website using Yahoo Merchant CMS (content management system), which has user-friendly templates to work with… no coding needed!  For my film promotion website, I used Joomla and worked closely with a web developer to get the tasks done that I couldn’t do on my own.  The recruiter counted this as experience in project management! I also learned how to get my perfume business and film website into local newspapers and industry blogs.  I guess there are other ways to be rewarded in pursuing self-employment other than money.  In my case, it was with transferable skills!  Unfortunately, my little ventures didn’t bring in enough for me to not need a job in the first place.

During these difficult times when people are desperately looking for a job, I am desperately looking to get rid of mine.  I understand how fortunate I am, but Gypsies can’t travel if they’re required to report to their cubicle every weekday morning at 8:30 AM.  I have to move on.  I also have to be discrete about who I am in my posts.  Declaring to the world that you are looking for ways to leave your job usually doesn’t sit well with employers.  My true identity will be revealed when it’s time.  That’s right… I’m a super hero!

My three phase plan (1. Get an RV 2. Lose the day job. 3. Live the dream) has been moving along surprisingly smooth, thus far.  I honestly thought the first step would be the most difficult, but it’s not.  The second step is the big hurdle to jump.  I’m looking at a lot of uncertainty and variables that could either help or hinder my goals.   I need to have income independent of a traditionally structured job in order to support myself on the road. The good thing to know is that my “overhead” is much lower since I have no rent or car payment.  However, I want more than to  just scrape by, I want to live.  Time to do a little homework explore my options.

A.  I can become fully self-employed. I’ve reopened my perfumery and now have both my website and Etsy shop up and running.  Unlike the first time around, I will aggressively promote and take it seriously with the intent of making a living.  By my calculations, I’d have to sell at least 20 bottles of perfume a week to live comfortably.  With some hard work, that can be achieved, right?  I still have a small following… thank goodness I kept my Facebook page and Twitter account!

B.  I can take a stab at freelance writing.  This was something I first considered two years ago but never thought of pursuing seriously, until now.   I have two friends who are writers and they have given me advice on where and how to start. Assignments right now are tight, due to the economy.  Like anything else; gigs may be few and far between, especially for new ‘uns like myself.  By the way, I’ve read some positive comments regarding my writing style over the past few days… it’s been very encouraging!

C. I could temp as I travel around the country.   I’m registered with a large, national temp agency, Kelly Services.  They have offices in each state, which I could travel with, and work for.  Though, I would be working a 9-5 schedule, I’d still be “getting the ball rolling” by traveling.  The potential pitfall is that it’s only semi-guaranteed income.  If assignments aren’t available, I don’t work.  Some areas of the country will have fewer jobs than others and there are sure to be salary differences.  I’m also looking at websites offering seasonal jobs to gypsies, RVers, and vagabonds such as coolworks.com.

D.  I could find another permanent job in a totally different location.  I asked Him for guidance and became spiritually drawn to Modesto, CA.   I had two friends suggest to me, in different instances, that I should move to California.  Mind you, neither of them knew of my thoughts of settling there in the future.  Remember that gentleman at the RV shop with whom I felt a “Cloud Atlas” moment?  Well, he was the second person suggesting I go out west.  He mentioned that I would most likely make better money doing the same job at a dealership in California.  The seed in my mind has been planted.  I knew there was something special about him! This option appeals to me the least because I’d simply be trading one pair of brass handcuffs for another.  However, just as with option C., the status quo, that is my life, will be changed.  In most cases, it’s better to do something rather than nothing and this could be the something that keeps me moving in the right direction.

I have a “back up, back up plan”, if none of the above options work out within the next 60 days.  I will continue to save money for an additional 60 days more, quit my job and go full nomad no matter what.  I will have by then a small cushion that should be enough for gas to take me cross country, provide safety for emergencies and incidentals, and coverage for a month’s worth of expenses until I find a gig, temp assignment, writing assignment, etc.  I figure many immigrants came to this country with much less in their pocket and ended up okay.  I should be okay, too!  Unexpectedly, if I were laid off today and couldn’t save any money, I’d head out west tomorrow and work all along the way until I get there.  The ultimate plan is to always move forward… no matter what.

Side note: If you are curious about my perfumes, simply let me know in the comments section below and I’ll email you my website’s link.   Also, I have found another cool gypsy who talks about the subject of earning money while on the road.

Stops Along the Way: Part 2

Five o’clock quickly arrived at my desk on my first night as a full-time RVer.  I left my office and walked into the dark parking lot knowing I would be home in less than 30 seconds.  No one from work knew it.  Since I land acting and print gigs on occasion, they believe my camper is to go on jobs out of town.  Half-truths go a long way.  I also made it a point for them to know that owning an RV has always been a dream of mine.  I considered letting my co-workers know of my new lifestyle, but I’ve grown less trusting with age.  My managers may feel less compelled to give me higher raises since I have fewer expenses.  My supervisor may look at me with scorn if I come in late on a snowy day. Co-workers may think I’m just plain kooky… and they would be right!  Yes, none of these things would be fair, but life isn’t fair and neither are people’s judgments and actions.  If the folks at work ever did find out (and some may already suspect), I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, why put myself out there if I don’t have to?

As I approached close to my camper, I visually took it all in.  “This is my home!”.  Realizing this felt odd, good… and a little scary.  I got in the van and drove to my RV friendly parking spot.  Like a dog, I instinctively circled the lot twice before parking.  There were two big rig trucks settled in for the night, so I parked next to them under a light post.

I climbed into the cabin, turned on the house lights and furnace then organized my things the best I could with the limited space I had.  It didn’t take long.  I went back up to the driving area and hung the camping drapes for the night that came with the van.   They expand along the front windows and windshield for insulation and privacy.  The down side to using these is that it becomes obvious to people that you are camping.  However, it’s not a concern in this particular parking space.  I sat on my couch bed and opened up my laptop to find there was no wifi (this retailer’s only flaw).  At that point, I was ready to retire for the evening.  I put on my jammies (with a thermal undershirt), made my bed, and quickly fell asleep.  The weather was mild and I rested soundly. My first night was anti-climactic… that’s a good thing.

I woke up early in the morning, headed to the gym for a workout and hot shower, and arrived at work without skipping a beat.  “I can do this.”, I thought to myself as I got settled at my desk.  My day went on, as usual.

I’m now well into my second month as a full-time RVer and going strong.  I’m all settled in and have my new place they way I want it.  My storage unit has been emptied.  Everything in it has been sold, given to charity, or put to use.  This means that all of my worldly possessions are in my camper!  I’d also like to point out that I made sure to have an alarm system with a kill switch installed.  I’ve finished “decorating”, mainly for my two most important concerns: warmth and privacy/safety.  The first thing I did before spending my first night was put up insulation curtains between the cabin and the cockpit.  This serves several important purposes: 1. It keeps my living space private while I’m driving or away from my vehicle.  I’ve had curious co-workers jokingly admit that they’ve tried to look into the back of my van during their cigarette break… Good luck with that!  2. It keeps light from escaping the outside of the curtain, leaving the front of the van dark for oncoming traffic and passersby, thus, allowing for stealthy camping. 3. Eliminates the need to hang conspicuous camping drapes when I’m boondocking.  4. It keeps the heat in and the cold out!

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Insulation curtain separating the two areas

The next important thing was insulating my house windows and roof vent.  I looked into different options like getting special plastic films or Styrofoam, but opted to get creative with what I already had.  I had four 2’x2’ purple acoustic panels that I used for home recording just taking up space in my cabin.   Using fabric scissors, I cut them to fit each window and entirely lined their backs with black Gorilla tape to make the foam impervious to wind and light (always think stealth!).  I then snapped them in place, over the windows using 3M Picture Hangers.  I had to use Gorilla Glue to keep the hangers on the plastic window frames because the hanger’s adhesive was not strong enough to hold on this surface long term.  Tip: do all of this during the day when the surface temperature is highest for the glue to work best.  I did the same with a grey 1’x1’ foam panel (minus the Gorilla Glue) for the roof vent.

In all, my insulation project was a success!  My cabin is toasty and just as importantly, retains more heat.  This was just in time for our first snowfall, which wasn’t much.  I managed to stay every bit as warm as when I lived in a land home.

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Window above my sleeping area

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Windows by the galley

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The house lights are ON inside!

A note about catalytic heaters:  I’ve read on several blogs, boards, and videos that they are a must for winter RVing.  It’s mainly because they use propane more efficiently than the forced air heat from RV furnaces by using radiant heat.  Fearing a nasty winter, I bought one from Amazon for $250 and had it installed by a technician.  However, I ended up having it uninstalled and returned for a refund in a week!  First off, because of the size and layout of my camper, there was no graceful place to mount it without it being a fire hazard.  I had to have it stand freely with legs on top of my stove.  Secondly, because of its limited location, the radiant heat could only radiate in certain places, leaving the floor and corners cold… and since you have to leave a crack in your window (to avoid asphyxiation) you are left being even colder!  I ended up just using my furnace heat most of the time.   

Bottom line: It was not worth it for me.   I’d also like to point out that you wouldn’t save much money using these heaters in a class B RV.  Since the living space is tiny, it wouldn’t make much difference cost wise.  I only spend $15 a week on propane for my furnace.  How much more could I possibly save using this thing… maybe $2 a pop?  Catalytic heaters are only worth it with larger RVs, where you could see a big difference in your budget and have more location options for mounting.  I only wish that I were clever enough to do this math before I spent money on the purchase, shipping, installation, de-installation, and restocking fee… You live and you learn!

Within my first week, I carved out a comfortable routine that’s working out well for me.  I get up around 5:30AM and head to the gym to work out, shower, and use the sauna.  I then head off to work, which is conveniently right around the corner.  After work, I drive to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and use their wifi until they close.  I used to go inside to sit at a table, but I’ve found it’s easier on my money and waistline to just stay in their parking lot.   Afterwards, I head to my retail campsite for the night.  I usually work on random projects, “socialize” on Facebook, and watch a couple of my favorite shows on my laptop.  When I’m in the mood, I’ll listen to music.  There’s nothing sweeter than relaxing to some good classic rock in a camper… something about it just feels so right!  I’m usually out cold by midnight.

This changes up a bit on the weekends.  Saturday is my day of rest, no gym.  I get my propane tank filled for the week.   Most of the time, I enjoy something leisurely like going out to a buffet lunch and or see a film at the theater.   On Saturday night, I find myself usually venturing to boondock on the streets of Hartford’s West End.  I would camp in neighboring West Hartford, where I grew up, but they enforce a strict street parking ban after 2 AM.  I have one favorite spot in Hartford that I’ve been going to each week because it’s quite and safe with available wifi.  Sundays, I usually hit the gym again. My laundry gets done every two weeks by the wash, dry, fold service at my favorite 24 hour Laundromat.  As a single person, it’s only a few dollars more than doing the laundry myself.   They also have a strong wifi signal which I help myself to throughout the day as I wait for my clothes.  Sunday evening, I camp at a relative’s home to charge my house battery for the week, since I do not yet have a generator.

Since I’ve become a gypsy, I’ve noticed there have been little adjustments in my patterns of thinking.  For instance, when I’m about to leave somewhere (usually work) I no longer say, “I’m going home.” Instead, I find myself thinking along the lines of, “I’m going to set up camp…”.    My third day in, I had to return some beauty products to Target.  While I was in the customer service line, I realized I forgot an item.  I felt a rush of frustration with my forgetfulness and resigned to the situation, thinking to myself, “I’ll bring it back some other time, after I go home.”  Then I remembered home was in the parking lot!  All of my items were returned that very night in ten minutes flat!

I have to say that so far, I’m very happy with my lifestyle… and with the money I’m starting to save.   I’ve also noticed within me, a stronger feeling of independence and self-sufficiency.  Of course, living this way is not without it’s challenges.  I’ve blown fuses, been late to work due to dead batteries and endured a late night bathroom emergency or two (I’m dry camping, remember?) which was all due to my own occasional carelessness.  Of course, there will be challenges ahead that will be out of my control.  By the way, be sure to get your AAA RV coverage or Good Sam membership, kiddies!

To avoid trouble, I always have to be aware of things.  I have to be aware of the amount of power I’m using in order for my rig to remain self-sufficient and running. I have to be aware of my surroundings to remain safe.  I have to be aware of my schedule to get important things done regularly, such as keeping my house batteries charged (it powers everything in my home), keeping my propane tank filled (I don’t want to risk running out of heat in the middle of the freezing night when fueling stations are closed!) and keeping a sufficient amount of gas in the tank that will last me until next payday.  Being a gypsy is an adventurous, leisurely, fun way of life, but I would not recommend it for the mentally or physically lazy!  I was a little of both before the day I moved into my camper.

The simplicity of my life is starting to grant me a certain feeling of peace.  This past Saturday, I parked in the West End of Hartford, as I usually do.  It’s mainly an upper middle class /upper class enclave with beautiful stately Victorian homes belonging to a very diverse mix of people; artists, businessmen, educators, social activists and the like.  Since I was a very young woman, I dreamed of one day living in one of these lovely, solidly built homes and becoming part of their vibrant, socially active community.   I’d often wish that I had a half million or so to plunk down to buy my way into that life.  Now there I was, ironically, driving down these roads looking for a place to camp for the night, leading a life that is completely different.  As I drove past these proud dwellings, beautifully decorated with Christmas lights, a quiet voice within me rose up, “Is the dream dead?” to which I replied, “No, it simply is no longer my dream.”  For the first time in my life, I feel free.

Side note: I heard this song on the classic rock station one night when I was driving.  I think I may have a new theme song!