Living the Good Life

Al Fry talks about living a good life as he hits the open road in his van.


| March/April 1971



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Learning to be a traveling nomad can be a great experience.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

During the last ten years I have spent less than a dozen dollars a week on an average for direct living expense. My son and I have survived nicely over this period and enjoyed ourselves to boot. After a beatnik period and much discomfort we found that the ideal ace in the hole is a bread delivery van. Anyone who really applies himself can get the shekels together to buy one and most leasing companies in any large city will have used trucks (which they've leased to bakeries) for sale. Bread vans are going toward diesel engines because it cuts costs almost in half. Such a used vehicle at any reasonable price is really a hidden gem.

I passed through various stages of step-in vans but finally settled upon a truck with the whole works, paneling and all. Although I have had a lot of portable stoves and closets which served well (some motor vehicle departments don't check out your modifications so it's up to you to decide how far you want to go), the Big Three improvements are [1] toilet, [2] water and [3] fuel (gas or ?) in that order.

At this writing a Porta Potti is the best self-contained privy on the market (at a steep $100) but any air-tight can may be used as a chemical toilet if it is laced with Clorox once a day. With this solved, water is no problem: A cheap plastic Jerry can and hand pump will do the job. A small propane stove will handle the last detail and it's surprising how well a little wood stove works: Some coal or hard wood banked up keeps you warm all night, and everywhere you go there is wood for the gathering. Put a screen over the top of the stovepipe to arrest sparks, watch where you park and you'll sniff the woodsy smell just enough to learn to love it.

I have a little French Citroen which I pull behind me wherever I go. Cycles are easier but I like my comfort and, at 50 miles per gallon, I can afford the nuisance of towing my little friend along.

California is "my state" and I often feel like a stay in Los Angeles or San Francisco where I am near either water or some of the action that is always going on. Los Angeles has a few places under freeways in the Hollywood area that are good for a week or so until you make contact with a safer area. Sausalito, near San Francisco, is a mecca for bohemian wanderers and you will often see the ultimate in "way out" mobile homes thereabouts although property owners are getting a little hard-nosed in recent years.

My usual procedure for extended stay is to put a mental order in for what I want and then try to spot a fenced-in "safe area" that looks like it needs guarding, protection . . . or squatting on. With a little inquiry it usually isn't long before you have a safe place to park . . . often complete with electricity and hose water. A couple of hours a week of helping, handyman work or whatever usually suffices for rent. I have camped with permission "gypsy style" near some of California's most interesting areas. I've found quite a few "safe camping zones" in southern California and many thousands are available with a little digging and permission hunting.





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