A Chautauqua. Ch. 1

I opened one eye. There was a deer licking frost from the passenger window. The “shotgun” window we used to call it. Slowly I opened the other eye. It was a doe. I’ve never been that close to a wild deer before.

If I had twitched she would have been gone, so I lay motionless in my sleeping bag and watched that delicate pink tongue and those big brown eyes. Every so often she would pause and survey her surroundings, her sensitive ears swiveling around like little radars scanning for any sound that didn’t belong, her black nose tasting the breeze. Suddenly, for whatever reason, her head came up, she gave a little snort then turned and pranced across the field into the evergreens. Still, I didn’t move. I wanted just to lie there and think about the doe and how she came out of the trees all by herself to lick the frost off of the window of my car. I wanted to savor it, and most of all, appreciate it. Maybe it was a sign. I felt blessed.

Finally I sat up and looked around. It was getting light out, but the sun hadn’t risen yet.
All I had been able to see last night when I pulled in had been revealed in the narrow beams of headlights surrounded by inky darkness. I had turned onto a little side road and followed it until I couldn’t see the lights from cars on the main road anymore and that’s when I stopped.
I was parked at the edge of a clearing half way up Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had just spent the first of many nights to come, sleeping in my car.
It was completely still and quiet in the soft pre-dawn light and all around me the tall grass was covered with dew. Clear drops that would sparkle and shimmer as soon as the sun cleared the trees, then evaporate away with the warmth of the day. Here in the Black Hills, I was half way between a place I had left so many times before and a place I had run to almost as often.

Born in Golden, Colorado, I had grown up in St. Cloud, Minnesota and I had been back and forth many times since. On this occasion I was once again headed to Boulder to live, work, and play at being a photographer. I wiggled out of my sleeping bag, got dressed and put my “house” in order. Grabbing a Clif bar and my water bottle, I got out of the car, had a good stretch and a long pee, turning some of the clear dew drops into sparkling yellow, Mountain-Dew drops. I leaned against the car and had breakfast as I thought about the future and watched the sun come up. All I was reasonably sure of, was that I would be in Boulder by afternoon, baring any unforeseen weirdness. After that, who knows…
I dug into my backpack for my toothbrush and some paste, had a quick brush, rinse and spit, and was ready to roll. I took a final look around and thought “I’ve never been here before and I’ll probably never be here again.”

See, that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t want to get too hung up on stuff like that, but sometimes you have to stop, just stop, and appreciate where you are, maybe just appreciate the fact that you ARE.  I started the car and drove back to the main road, took a left and headed up the canyon towards Wyoming.
I was on an adventure.

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Chautauqua On the Road Ch. 2

Five years ago if anyone had told me that I would someday be living in my car, actually residing in my car on a regular, extended basis, I would have told them they were nuts. To me at that time, the idea was crazy.

I mean, I had a wife and two kids. We had built and lived in our home for fifteen years. I worked for a major international paper company as an environmental technician and had lots of “mill toys” like a new Honda Accord, a Ski-Do snowmobile, a Honda Gold Wing, etc. I had a big vegetable garden in the back yard, and over the years I had planted more than 40 trees on the half-acre lot that was the biggest one in the housing addition. Every Christmas I would hang about a million lights all over the house and the trees, and in the summer a whole lot of Weber grilling took place on the big deck. We had our own well and a septic tank because we lived outside the city limits and we liked it that way. We knew all our neighbors and our kids all played together.

So what happened? The usual things. Dorothy and I had slowly started to drift apart till eventually we separated then got divorced. Mowing all that grass once a week was starting to get old, Michele, the oldest, had moved out when she turned eighteen.  Josh was fourteen and it had just been him and I in the house since Dorothy left.

Just the two of us for seven years. In that time we went on some great trips together. We went to the Black Hills on the motorcycle, and drove the Accord to Florida where we spent a week in Sarasota. We flew to Orlando and took the Disney cruise ship to the Bahamas where we went para-sailing together and went snorkeling on the reefs.
After that we spent five days at Disney World. One winter we flew to Las Vegas to see what that was all about, and one year we flew to San Diego and spent ten days with my folks who winter there. We’ve done a lot together, Josh and I.

I turn the music off and roll down the window to have a smoke. The car is running good and the miles unwind like a ball of string. The road from Newcastle in northern Wyoming to Cheyenne in the southern part of the state is a pretty cool road. I’ve driven this road a number of times and it doesn’t get old.  You go through towns with names like Mule Creek Junction, Red Bird, Lusk, and Lingle.  Actually, this road parallels the old “Cheyenne to Deadwood” stagecoach road.  I think about stuff like that sometimes when I’m driving these less traveled country roads.

Back in the day, the stagecoach trip from Cheyenne to Deadwood must have been a hairy ride. I bet that stage road saw a lot of action. I always try to imagine what it must have been like for those people back then. No cars, no roadside rests with lights and bathrooms, no bottled water! Did they know they had it rough or was it just normal to them? Will some future people try to imagine what it must have been like driving a car on a road between Cheyenne and Spearfish with nothing but a cell phone, air conditioning, and CDs to listen to, and wonder, “How did they do it?”

Just south of Cheyenne and I’m in Colorado already. It’s only about six hours from Spearfish to Boulder.

Chautauqua. Some History Ch. 3

It’s always a little emotional for me returning to Boulder after being away for a while. Dropping down into the valley and seeing the town all spread out at the base of the Flatirons and the Foothills, with the Front Range of the Rockies looking impossibly high and white and closer than they really are, it’s… well, it just makes me glad to be back.  It feels like home even though I just left home in Minnesota a few days ago.

I want to talk about Josh some more. He is and has been since he was born, the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have Dorothy and God above to thank for that kid.
What a gift and a blessing to have the honor and privilege of raising a beautiful, precious child, my son.
The last time Dorothy got pregnant her doctor said whatever happens, no more, be done. And after three miscarriages I didn’t hold much hope for that pregnancy going to term. Especially when Dorothy was diagnosed with Crone’s disease and was admitted to the hospital because she couldn’t keep any food in her and was down to 99 pounds.
They had to put a feeding tube into her artery and pump in 4000 calories a day for several weeks. She was very sick and malnourished and in her first trimester. Of course, because of the pregnancy they were limited by what drugs they could give her and so they went with the smallest dose possible of an oral steroid called Prednisone. So, after the three previous miscarriages, the malnutrition during a time when women are typically on pre-natal vitamins, and the medication she was getting, I didn’t hold much hope for that baby.
After five weeks in the hospital they sent her home ordering total bed rest in some hope of keeping her pregnant. Eventually, Dorothy was in her seventh month and we started to have hope for the baby. But would the baby be all right? The doctors had said that because of the steroid she was on there might be birth defects. There was no way to know for sure. Late in her seventh month the ultrasounds showed that the baby was growing and following the curve, but he was at the bottom of the curve, actually, just barely on the curve at all. At eight months they decided they wanted to get him out of there so they had us come in to the hospital and they induced labor.

As I drive through the Boulder streets I look around but nothing has changed.
Going slow past Penny Lane where I have spent so many hours and days, I check out the patio and see the same faces that were there when I left. I don’t go there much any more, partly for that reason. I park on Pearl Street and walk down the mall. Again, it’s like I left here yesterday. Well, I guess most places are like that after all. Places don’t change; it’s us who change.

While Dorothy was in labor, at some point, I walked down to the chapel and got down on my knees. Haven’t we all been there at some time or another? I wept and pleaded and made promises, swore on my life, making deals with God and Jesus. I think I might have promised I’d become a missionary, go out and preach the word of The Lord. Anything! Just please let Dorothy and the baby be all right! Yeah, I guess it’s fair to say that I was pretty scared and feeling humble.
When Josh was born I was right there, standing beside Dorothy, and I saw he was a boy and I saw he was all right. He was only 4 pounds, 7 ounces, and I know babies are born much smaller than that, but he was the smallest baby I had ever seen.

For me, the sun rose and set on that baby. Something happened to me that I never expected to happen. And really, it’s such a natural, automatic thing you don’t even realize it. Your priorities change. This was the most beautiful, wonderful, magical thing that had ever happened to me and as much as I looked forward to Josh growing up, at the same time I never wanted him to.

As the sun dropped behind the Flatirons, I started thinking about where I was going to park that night. I wanted somewhere dark and quiet, safe and private. As I cruised around I wondered about parking lots, but they have lots of lights usually. Maybe a dark side street. It’s a college town and people are always walking in Boulder. I didn’t want a steady stream of people walking past my car. For the first time, I started getting this feeling that I would have many times after that. I wished I were invisible. I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to be left alone, not bothered or hassled. I didn’t want to get rousted by some cop tapping on the window with his flashlight in the middle of the night because some home owner didn’t like that suspicious car parked out there. I didn’t want to have to explain anything to anyone, partly because how can you explain something to someone when you don’t fully understand it yourself.

Occasionally, if it happened to come out that I was living in my car, I would tell people, “Oh, I’m writing a book about homeless people and how it feels to be homeless, so I thought I better do some research and pretend to be homeless for a while.” Or, “It seems like an interesting alternative kind of lifestyle and there are so many people doing it that I thought I would see what it’s like.”, that kind of thing.
I finally find a side street just a couple blocks away from downtown. The side street is a steep hill leading up to an alley that runs behind Mapleton Ave. I liked the hill aspect because even though my seat reclines almost flat, it’s not quite horizontal. So parking on a hill makes for flat lying, and when it comes to sleeping comfortably in a car, that is a biggie.
I had parked there two nights when on the third night a man came out of the house that I was parked next to and walked over to the car. I was sitting up reading, having just pulled in, so I rolled down the window as he approached.
He seemed pretty nice, about in his early sixties and he asked if I was going to be sleeping in my car for very long. I said that I was just between apartments for a few days. He smiled and said, “Well, you shouldn’t park here on the street.”
“Instead, pull up into the alley and park in the space next to my garage. I own that space and it’s private land so the police won’t bother you. It’s dark, quiet and safe and you’re welcome to park there at night for however long you need to. If anyone gives you any grief,” he added, “ just tell them I said it was ok.” Then he smiled kindly and walked back to his house and went inside. Yup, that’s Boulder for you.
I’ve been parking there for the past three years now and I’ve never had a chance to speak to him since. I only used his space a few nights then I moved over to the one next to his because it is under a kind of overhanging tree so it’s almost like a cave, at least in the summertime when the tree is all leafed out. He knows that I am still there though because when his daughter comes home from college, he parks his van in the space next to me so she can park in their driveway.

I don’t know if any of the other neighbors know that there is someone sleeping in a car out there or not. There’s probably no reason why they should, though. I come after dark, usually no earlier than ten, and I am gone by seven the next morning. When I’m lying down you can’t see me in there anyway, unless you were to come right up and look in the window. All in all, I feel very fortunate to have found that place, and very grateful to that man who was so kind and understanding.
Speaking of that guy, he is a perfect example of how you never know who you are going to meet or what situations you might find yourself in once you change the parameters of your existence. I call it “the dynamic of existence”, and I can give several examples if you’re up for it. Ok? Fine, here goes.

For fifteen years I was married with children, a homeowner with a “career” at the paper mill and all that that entails. It was a good life, a great life, no complaints. I was happy and content, but in an anesthetized kind of way. My life was centered around three things, my family, my job, and my property, property being house and toys. Our friends were very few; our experiences were very limited. It was a routine of go to work, maintain the house and grounds, deal with kids in school, grocery shopping, watching TV, etc. That was the dynamic of my existence.
Since I left St. Cloud and moved to Boulder six years ago, all kinds of amazing, wonderful, interesting things happened to me. Things that would never have happened, indeed, could not have happened if I had been in St. Cloud. I had to change the dynamic of my existence to allow any of these opportunities to present themselves.
But I didn’t know that these things would happen, they just happened! Imagine my surprise at how much my life changed simply by changing where and how I lived.

The extent to which I changed the dynamic of my existence was pretty drastic I’ll admit, but I’ve never been exactly subtle in most ways. Impulsive is more like it.
What changed? Winding up no longer married was the beginning. There’s a big change right there. But I still had the “mill” job and the house and all of the “mill toys”, and the responsibilities of being a single father, and bills, schedules, obligations, payments, bank accounts, chores, et cetera ad nauseum.

The next thing to go was the job. I quit, got fired, took early retirement, went crazy, was laid off, gave up, ran away… whatever. When you decide you’ve had enough it almost doesn’t matter how you get out even if you have to chew off your own paw. It’s all the same thing with the same result. Freedom! Most of the guys at the mill would have been traumatized if they lost their jobs there. Shell-shocked, scared, panicky, desperate. All of these things, and maybe even suicidal.

“Life after the mill?” “Is there such a thing?” Yeah, that’s the way I used to think too. But after the divorce something inside me snapped and I couldn’t stay there any more. Sometimes you do have to burn a bridge just to keep yourself from going back. Couldn’t stay in St. Cloud either. Josh was 16 and Dorothy and her husband were glad to have him move in with them and he was happy with the arrangement too. He had his own room, his own car, a part time job and lots of friends.

I sold the house, sold, gave away or threw away most everything in it, sold the Accord, sold the snowmobile, the motorcycle, the guns, the coins, the stamps, the tools, everything. Took a few boxes of photo albums and other treasures over to the folk’s basement, and suddenly… I had nothing. I was free.
I wanted to get out, out in the world. Just wanted to wander, hike, climb, get lost, drift, explore… and now, I could go. So, like a salmon that returns to the spawning grounds, I went back to Colorado.

Chautauqua: Adventures. Adventure #1

Before I left St. Cloud, I bought a tent, a sleeping bag, and a bunch of other stuff because I wanted to hike the Colorado Trail. I actually did hike it for a couple weeks but it rained almost daily, my feet were bleeding from blisters and I wasn’t having much fun, so I headed back down into town and got a room at the hostel in Boulder. The next day I got a tele-marketing job and a line on an apartment. Was I starting another rut? We’d see. Certainly the dynamic of my existence had changed and that was ok by me.

Adventure #1.

I’m sitting in Penny Lane, an alternative type coffee shop catering to young hippies, freaks, rasta-farians, gutter punks, goth kids, high school students, college students, street people, old hippies, beatniks, paranoid schizo-frenics, storytellers, artists and musicians. I liked it there because I enjoyed the diversity and I didn’t stick out.
For the price of a glass of ice tea I could sit there for hours smoking cigarettes and reading, doing the crossword, or just people watching.
Any way, I’m sitting there reading the Colorado Daily, the University of Colorado’s paper, and all of a sudden, in the classified section, I see a small ad that reads, “Looking for adventure sailors.” So, I wound up meeting this retired physicist who has a 40-foot sailboat that he keeps in Ft. Lauderdale. He loves to sail on it but can’t sail it alone so he looks for people to go out there and sail with him. All I had to do was pay my airfare and a couple hundred for food and booze, dockage fees, etc.
Oh, I did buy a brand new, very nice pair of Sperry Top Siders for the trip.
Now I was ready!

Old Bill, the physicist, was in his early 70s and scrawny as hell but sharp as a tack. He’s this bandy legged little guy, all brown and wrinkled by the sun, who speaks with a heavy Polish accent even after 50 years living in the States.
He was a transport pilot in WW ll. and knows everything there is to know about navigation, sailing, weather, currents, tides, etc. He has a house up Boulder Canyon, a wife and two German Shepherds, which he refers to as “the kids.”
And he’s a fascinating guy.


So, it was me and another guy from Boulder, a twenty-six year old kid who fancied himself a real “sail bum”, and a young couple in their late twenties from Golden. But they abandoned ship when we got to Key Biscayne because it had been rough going from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami and they were seasick. Hell, we were all sea sick, especially that primadonna, the “sail bum”.
He was hanging his head over the side puking his guts out while trying to get a scopolamine patch to stick behind his ear. But he was all sweaty so the patch wouldn’t stick. It kept falling off or sliding down his neck until it was under his collar somewhere.
I was sick as hell too but at least I didn’t puke. The young couple just sat there holding each other and looking green. I asked Old Bill (the owner) about it and he said that even he always feels a little queasy at first, especially with conditions the way they were that day, but that he usually gets over it pretty fast.

We were going to go to the Bahamas, which is due east from Lauderdale, but the wind was right from that direction so we decided to just go down along the Keys as far as we could, instead.  So, after the couple jumped ship, it was just Old Bill, the “sail bum kid” and I. Which was pretty nice because there was plenty of room on that 40 footer for three guys. After we left Ft. Lauderdale, we slept on the boat every night. It was always hot and humid, so we all slept above decks. All you needed was a sleeping pad and a sheet and a pillow. It was great. At the end of the day we’d anchor off some island or key, or in some bay, and usually go swimming to cool off and get the sweat off, or we’d paddle the rubber raft to the island to explore. Then we’d have supper and talk, listen to the weather forcast for the next day, and

Sailor Dick

maybe read a bit before laying down for the night. We’d be up with the sun, have breakfast and raise sail for another day. When we had gone as far as we could in five days, we turned around and sailed back, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale ten days from when we started.
It was a really great time and I’m glad I did it. Unfortunately, I left my barely broken in Top Siders in the motel room where we stayed the night before we flew back.
I guess I’m just not a Top Sider kind of guy.

Chautauqua, Adventures

Adventure # 2.

It was at about the same time that I was first reading the ad about sailing, that I met Meredith, and it was as a result of meeting Meredith that I got to go to Jamaica.

Since arriving in Boulder, I had gotten back into photography, something I hadn’t done seriously since high school. I like photographing places and people, and Colorado is night and day different from central Minnesota. Certainly the people were different.
I started taking pictures of some of the people at Penny Lane. I’d ask them of course.
I’d walk up to their table and ask them if I could take their picture.
Not the paranoid schizofrenics of course, but all the others if they looked interesting and didn’t mind.
Sometimes I would be walking on the mall and see someone interesting and I would walk up to them, or stop them as they walked by, and ask them if I could take their picture. Only rarely did anyone decline. Some would want to know what it was all about and so we’d talk a bit, and some didn’t seem to care what it was all about and continue on about their business after I took their picture. Usually it was women that caught my eye (go figure) but they had to have some quality, some uniqueness that caused them to catch my eye. It might be an attitude, manner of dress, hair, tattoos or piercings, or any number of things. And usually it was that uniqueness that made them willing to be photographed by a total stranger and not be weirded out by it.
One night I was having a bite to eat at Old Chicago on the mall. I was sitting on the patio outside since it was a warm night and I noticed a girl coming out of the bar next to Old Chicago. She sat at a table out on their patio and lit a cigarette to go with her beer.
With in minutes a couple guys had joined her at her table, but I didn’t think that they were all together. The thing that caught my eye in her case was her hair. She had dark brown dreads down to her butt.
In Boulder, dreads are a dime a dozen and normally wouldn’t stand out at all, but this girl didn’t fit the rest of the profile. Usually girls with dreads are your typical earthy, long skirt wearin’, patchouli smellin’, Phish listenin’ bare foot hippy chicks. Not always, but usually. And that’s ok. I’ve photographed some girls like that, though they too had some quality that set them apart. But this girl with the long locks was different in a number of ways. She wasn’t wearing baggy pants or a patchwork skirt. She was wearing make up but not too much. She was petite at 5-4, about 110 pounds, and this girl wasn’t interested in hiding her femininity under a lot of loose, baggy material. She had on a pair of black, low slung hip-hugger pants that weren’t leather but fit her like a glove. Her top was some kind of red shiny material that also clung to every curve. She was wearing black boots that zipped up the side and probably added a couple inches.
The result was a refreshing slant on the whole dreads thing. I had to talk to her.
I settled up with my server and went next door, arriving just as she went into the bar.
I figured she was heading for the bathroom, but when I opened the door she was standing at the bar waiting for a refill. I walked up beside her, said “Excuse me…”, and laid my little spiel on her as we stood there. I told her how I would love to photograph her if she was of a mind, and how she would get a complete set of all the pictures. That I liked her “look” and how different it was.
She knew exactly what I was talking about. She said, “Yeah, when I was fifteen I ran away from home and went on “Dead Tour” for the next four years. As a result, I’ve been around and seen a lot, and I decided that I wasn’t going to wear any certain “uniform” or fit any certain mold. I like dressing up when I go out and I like looking good. I have followed and practiced the Rastafari religion for the past ten years and believe me, I have earned these locks. I have a full time job in sales and marketing, and I have a three year old daughter who’s father left when I got pregnant.” She said her name was Meradith and she was twenty-two. We discovered that we had the same February 14th Valentine’s Day birthday, so I gave her a card and said I hoped I would hear from her about possibly working together.
I figured that before the night was over, she would probably scribble her phone number on the back of my card and give it to some guy and I would never hear from her again, but about two weeks later, she called. I wound up photographing her and her daughter Israel too. As a result we became good friends and remain so to this day.
I became Uncle Rick to Isreal, and the three of us spent a lot of time together. Our favorite picture of all is one I took of her wearing nothing but those black boots, with her head way back and her dreads hanging straight down past her butt. Oh yeah, and she’s holding a bottle of Guiness in her right hand. It’s a great shot that I like a lot.
She has a big print of it, matted and framed, hanging in her living room. She’s very proud of it because she likes the way she looks. It is a pretty cool photograph, and when she’s 70 she’ll still be able to look at that picture of when she was 22… and remember.
I also got to know Isreal’s Godfather, (read, step-father) a former boyfriend of Meredith’s named Steve. They are just friends now, but still close, so he was over at the apartment a lot of the times when I was there. We all got along very well. Anyway, it was Steve who asked me one day if I had ever wanted to go to Jamaica. I said that of course I would love to go to Jamaica. Who wouldn’t want to go to Jamaica!
And so, as Meredith, Steve and I sat out on the patio of her apartment, they explained how I could go on an all expense paid trip to Jamaica for ten days.
And so that’s what happened. I flew first class to Miami and from there to Montego Bay and from there by car to Negril where I stayed at a really nice little resort for ten days. The flights were uneventful but the car ride from the airport in Mobay to Negril was one I would not want to do twice in my lifetime. Once I was safely in Negril and settled into my modest but comfortable room, one of the first things I bought was a t-shirt that said “I survived the road to Negril”.

The place I stayed, called The Negril Yacht Club, had probably been a big fancy deal back in the day before the big resort hotels built farther down the 7 Mile Beach, but these days it survives as more of a locals place to stay or for tourists who stay for a month or two or three. It had a good restaurant, an outdoor “tiki” bar, hammocks slung between swaying palms, kayaks, etc. and my room with a huge bathroom and shower. two beds and a little patio ten feet from the ocean, was $30 a night, $35 if I wanted A/C which I did. I wasn’t paying for it anyway. Best of all, in no time at all the whole staff, all 7 or 8 of them, knew you and you knew them

Happy rejoicing at day's end.

The whole trip didn’t cost me a thing and I was even given five hundred dollars spending money. So, after ten days of lying on the beach, sitting at the outdoor bar drinking ice cold Red Stripes, exploring the town of Negril, kayaking along the shore for miles, lying in a hammock sipping frothy rum drinks for hours, photographing some beautiful Jamaican girls, and falling asleep each night to the sound of the waves on the shore ten feet outside my window, I flew first class back to Colorado, safely clearing Customs in St. Louis.  My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures.

Meredith, Isreal and Steve have since moved to New Jersey and I look forward to seeing them all again some day.  It will happen.  I will have to go to New Jersey, which is fine because in addition to seeing everybody, I can fulfill another lifelong dream,  which is to go to Coney Island and have a hot dog at Nathan’s. I can’t wait!
Meredith and I call each other once in a while to keep caught up and stay in touch. And we always exchange Valentine birthday cards in February.

Chautauqua. Habitats.

Of course, altering one’s dynamic of existence doesn’t just present opportunities for adventures, but for meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t have met, which can lead to adventures and explorations in the human spirit.

The first year in Boulder I shared a two bedroom place with George, the person who already lived there. He was about my age and had moved to Colorado from Homer, Alaska about ten years earlier. One day he came home and threw a Time magazine or something on the kitchen table. “Look at that!” he said. I looked and saw a picture of Jewel on the cover. I’m like,“Huh, What?” He says, “I don’t believe it! Look how famous she is.” I said, “Yeah, So?” “So! She’s from Homer. She was born there. Her parents and I were good friends. I remember her as this little kid running around all over town with the other kids, like a little tomboy with scabby knees and dirt on her face. I watched her grow up! And now look at her!” George had only vaguely been aware that Jewel had become famous. If it wasn’t political, George didn’t pay much attention.
When he moved to Washington D.C. so he could be closer to the political arena, I found another two-bedroom apartment a couple blocks away. I signed a year lease and advertised for a room mate. It’s amazing how perfectly normal, people can seem when you are interviewing them, and then turn out to be psychotic after all.
My first room mate was Victoria, a not unattractive, slightly skinny 24 year old who was very friendly and out going. She wasn’t a student. She was just working and living in Boulder like I was. After she had been there about a month we were sitting in the living room talking one evening. Imagine my surprise when I found out that her step-father was the Storage Tek guy. Yeah! He he was the founder and owner of Storage Tek! So, what the hell was this millionaire heiress doing living in a $450. a month room in my apartment!? I said, “Why aren’t you living in the mansion?”
And so the story came out, piece by piece.

They had washed their hands of her. They couldn’t cope, They had tried everything, therapy, counseling, Betty Ford’s place, and nothing worked. All their resources hadn’t been able to deal with Victoria. “What was the problem?” I asked, dreading what I was going to hear. “Oh, you know, the drugs, the booze, the depression, the suicide attempts, the stealing…” All I could say was, “Drugs!”. I was almost speechless.
“Yeah.” She said with a sad little smile. “I kinda have a thing for the powders.”
“And uh, stealing?” I asked. “Yeah, you know, shoplifting.” “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna rip you off.” she said, as if reading my mind. And she never did.
After six months she found a boyfriend and moved out, so again I ran an ad in the Daily.
I still didn’t have a car but I had an RTD Eco-Pass, from work, so when Jay, a big thirty year old “kid” moved in and made it clear that his truck was my truck whenever he wasn’t using it, that was pretty nice. And he meant it too. Jay was pretty generous that way.
You couldn’t ask for a better roommate. He’d come home from work with a 12 pack under each arm and disappear into his room where he played video games or watched movies for the rest of the night. Sometimes I’d jump in the truck, go pick up Meredith and we’d go have a couple drinks somewhere or go out to eat. She didn’t have a boyfriend at the time but she always had a lot of guys hitting on her. She said I was her buffer when she didn’t want to be bothered.
Having the use of Jay’s truck made me realize how much I missed having wheels of my own, so I looked in the paper and called on an ad for a 1986 Toyota Corolla Hatchback and wound up buying it for $800.00. And a good thing too because shortly after that, Jay got drunk and totaled his truck. He also wound up in the Emergency room with most of his scalp ripped off. A few days after he was released from the hospital, he and his mom drove up in her SUV and proceeded to load up all his things from his room.
I guessed that he was moving out and he confirmed that he was going to be living at his parent’s house for a while. After they were gone I went into his room which I hadn’t seen the inside of in five months. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Every night for five months, a twelve pack of cans and/or three or four forties, would go into that room. And in that time none of the empties had come out.
There was a mountain up to the ceiling of empty cans in one corner of the room. It looked like an avalanche was imminent. I stood in the doorway and just stared. The closet doors were open and on the long top shelf was row after row of forty ounce bottles containing some yellow liquid. It wasn’t beer.
It took me a couple days to clean out the room and carry all the trash to the Dumpster. Opening and emptying out all those bottles of piss was the worst. So, yeah… Jay was obviously an alcoholic. Obvious now, but I guess I was blind to it before. Oh well, live and learn.
The lease was up in a few weeks and it was almost June anyway, so I decided not to renew it again. To hell with room mates and deposits and five hundred dollars a month down the drain. I knew what I would do. I would just sleep in the car at night. It was going to be summer for the next three months anyway, so that’s what I did.

The coldest winter I ever spent was that first winter I spent in my car.
Now, it doesn’t get as cold in Colorado as it does in Minnesota but every once in a while some of that cold Arctic air comes blowing down along the front range of the Rockies. On those nights when it’s clear and cold and states like Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota are getting 20 and 30 below temps (-30 and –35 C), it can get down to – 5 F (-20 C) in Boulder. People used to ask me if I ran the engine at night or something to keep warm and other people living in their vehicles admitted that they did that sometimes. I considered them lucky not to be dead.
Before I parked on these cold nights I would drive around a little with the heater on full blast until it was nice and toasty in the car and then I would go to my parking place.
While it was still warm in the car I would strip and get dressed again in layers with silk top and bottoms next to my skin and then a looser layer of thermal underwear and them sweat pants and a hooded sweat-shirt. Same principal with my feet.
I had a summer sleeping bag, a light-weight roomy thing, and a down filled mummy winter bag. On the coldest nights I would put the mummy bag inside the summer bag and throw a few of those air activated hand warmers down in the bottom for the toes.
I would crawl into the double bag set-up just as it was starting to cool off in the car, adjust my head light and read for a half hour or so before shutting off the light, making the seat go flat and snuggling in for the night. By then my nose would be running and my breath would be huffing out in white plumes. Anyway, I would be quite comfortable all night long and wake up to all the windows covered with frost… on the inside.

Most nights in the winter were much more comfortable with lows in the 20s and 30s (2 to -4 C ) or even warmer. I would sleep in just my skin in the winter bag by it’s self and no matter the weather outside, be it snow, sleet or a cold winter rain, I would be warm and dry and snug as a bug in a rug. Some nights I would fall asleep looking at the moonlight on the Flatirons and wake up in the middle of the night to the gentle sound of rain on the roof of the car, or the sound of wind lashed rain against the windows. Either way, I would open an eye just enough to check the weather before falling back asleep with a contented smile on my face. Some mornings I would awaken to find myself in a dim little cave with all the windows covered by fresh fallen snow.
Summer nights were even better. No matter how hot is was that day, at night the cool mountain breezes would blow down the canyon through the town just as the stars were coming out. On those nights I would sit up with my summer bag wide open and the windows down while I read before bed. If there was a summer storm I would fall asleep to the soporific sound of rain on the roof.
It was a special, magical, carefree time that I spent living in the car. I knew the moon’s phases intimately, and sometimes I would wake before sunrise to see deer walking slowly down the alley behind the car. They would come down out of the hills and wreck havoc on people’s gardens. Every night there were raccoons of course, foraging and mating. The sound a female raccoon makes when she’s getting nailed is terrifying until you know what it is.
I hope to get the chance to live in my car again someday.

Chautauqua. Jobs, Shows, Cars and Adventure #3

Once I was settled in I started doing the photography again. Because I had so much stuff accumulating in the car, I went looking for a storage unit to rent. While checking out a unit at a place in north Boulder, I met Melissa, a late 20s gal who was also looking for a storage unit. We got to talking and decided to share a storage unit. Then we went for breakfast. She was looking at some of my pictures and suddenly she said, “You should have a web site! And some business cards!”
I agreed as how that would be nice but I didn’t know the first thing about how to go about doing that, and besides, it was probably pretty expensive. She explained that her boyfriend made web sites for a living and assured me that he would love to make one for me, maybe in exchange for a picture or something. So that’s how I met David Wright.
Dave moved to the states from the UK about ten years ago. He’s heavy into mountain biking and works summers for an outdoor adventure company as a guide.
An affable youngster with an engaging smile, Dave had already done web sites for Wells Fargo, Microsoft, and United Airlines to name just a few.
He was very willing to take on this basically pro bono project because as he said, “I’ve never done an artistic type web site and this will be fun.” Dave also said I should have some business cards, if for no other reason than to lend an air of legitimacy to my somewhat stumbling and stilted spiel when I approached women. But not just regular little business cards. Artistic type postcards are what he had in mind. So he designed those too and had them printed by some outfit he had worked with in the past, for cost.
I gave him a big print of Mesa Arch, matted and framed. I probably had four hundred dollars into the picture so I wound up with a beautiful, professionally designed web site, and high quality, high class cards that would have cost anybody else several thousand dollars and I got it all for four hundred bucks.
Dave and Melissa broke up shortly after that.

In the process of doing all this photography, when I got a picture that I liked a lot, I had it enlarged, matted and framed. Eventually I had about fifteen framed images of various sizes. Some were landscapes, some were nudes and some were portraits.
Penny Lane always has art hanging on the walls. The show, or artist, changes every two weeks and they don’t charge anything to hang. They are typically booked up six months in advance but I knew that sometimes someone would cancel or be a no-show, so I talked to Shaun who manages the shows and said if there were ever a cancellation, I would be interested. As it happened there was an opening a couple weeks later so I hung my first show at “The Lane”. After that, in the course of a year, I had two more shows there, which resulted in being asked to exhibit at a gallery in town called Gallery Sovereign. So I wound up having two shows there, a landscape show and a nude show.
As a result of those shows I was asked to do a show at The Boulder Art Gallery on the mall. That show lasted a month and if nothing else, I can at least say that my pictures once hung in a gallery on the Pearl Street Mall. Did I sell anything? Not bloody likely.

One of my earliest jobs since moving to Boulder was working at a tele-marketing place called Aspen Media and Market Research. I would call companies and get them to renew free subscriptions to trade publications that they were already receiving, for free. Not very challenging. You could read the paper, do the crossword, write notes to the person in the next cubicle, paint your fingernails, or your toenails if you were so inclined, anything to keep the mind and hands busy while the mouth did it’s own thing to the tune of $8.50 an hour. After a year of that, I moved over to a different tele-marketing place a couple blocks away and started selling environmental video training programs to companies that were required to provide that type of training to their employees. That was much more interesting, and with my environmental background, I was actually quite good at it.
The trick was getting to the right person, the decision maker, but once I found them, I was able to talk the talk, establish rapport and get all collegial with them. And did I sell training programs? I did indeed. More than anyone had ever sold before. I broke all records for the company and made lots of money in the process, most of which I spent on photography, always photography. Oh, and I bought a car, a blue Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder convertible.

That’s when I first started toying with the idea of living in a car.
I also drove the Spyder back to Minnesota for a week to visit the fam. 2000 miles, mostly with the top down. Once I got back to Colorado, it soon became apparent that I could not live in a small convertible so I sold the Spyder and bought Rosebud, a sweet little Toyota Corolla Hatchback for $800. Several years and many thousands of miles later, I still have her and she’s still getting me around. And though I haven’t lived in her for three years, all I have to do is make the seat go flat and I can fall right to sleep.

Any way, that job lasted about a year, during which I took the trips to Jamaica and Florida.

Adventure #3

At the end of that gig I decided to go on a little road trip out west to Utah and Arizona to do a little exploring and do some photography. It was the middle of November when I headed west on I-70 with only a vague idea of where I was going or how long I would be gone.
After I crossed the boarder into Utah I decided I might as well check out Canyon Lands National Park. It was after 5pm as I entered the park and I saw a park ranger truck going the other way, towards Moab. When I went past it, the Ranger Station at the entrance to the park was closed, dark and deserted. A little further on I passed a sign that said “Mesa Arch Trailhead” and thought I would return in the morning to maybe take some pictures. It was getting dark and I wanted to find the campground. I passed not one other vehicle as I drove through the park that evening, including the campground, which I had all to myself. No cars, no RVs, no Park Ranger vehicles, parked or moving. Nothing and no body. I know that I was the only person in that whole National Park that night.
Do you know what it feels like to be all alone in a National Park? To be the only living person in a whole United States National Park? Well, it’s not at all creepy, but it is kinda cool. Imagine having a whole National Park to yourself.

It got pretty cold that night. The sky was clear and there was no moon so as it got darker and darker, the stars just got brighter and brighter. Before I settled into the car for the night, I crawled up on the hood, lay back against the windshield and gazed up into pure and absolute blackness, a backdrop for more stars than I had ever seen or imagined before in my life. The Island In The Sky part of Canyonlands where I was spending the night is surrounded on three sides by deep canyon. If you go to the end of the road, the ground falls away straight down, in front and all around you. It’s a little unnerving during the daytime, and at night it’s downright disorienting.

On that high desert plateau, hanging in space a thousand feet above the canyon floor, it seems like the air is hardly there. On a cold clear night it’s as if there were nothing between you and all those billions of sharp little pinpoints of light. There’s no depth to it, or too much depth, if you get what I’m saying. You forget if you’re looking up into that sea of light and dark in space, or into a bottomless ocean full of phosphorescence. The Milky Way just wraps across the sky from horizon to horizon like a white shawl, and the horizons are lower than you are because the ground drops away all around, so you’re up in it, stuck out on this promontory, higher than anything, and the sky is like a globe, an astronomical fish bowl, and the stars are so sharp and bright and unreal looking that… well, I got a little dizzy lying there looking into that endless void. I felt like I was falling endlessly through space. Plus, I had a raging case of the munchies.

It was my teeth chattering that finally brought me around. It was very cold and I was shivering like crazy. What time was it and how long had I laid there? I got in the car and crawled into my sleeping bag, which was cold but quickly warmed up on the inside. I checked the thermometer and it was 7 below. By morning it was 12 below (-24 C) and all my water had frozen solid. Before the sun came up I drove back to the Mesa Arch trailhead. Low and behold, there’s three cars and two vans parked there. When I got to the arch there they all were with their tripods, lined up in a row, drinking hot coffee, stamping their feet and saying, “Oh my, it’s so cold!”, over and over again.

I knew that they had spent the night in warm motel rooms down in Moab and had gotten up early to drive into the park and be at the arch when the sun came up.
It gave me a secret feeling of being closer to the arch, more deserving to photograph it, since the arch and I were alone in the park all night with the stars and the comets and the numbing chill of the high desert. These others were strangers, but the arch and I had been there together.

I shot a roll of film and left the park heading south through Moab and down through Monument Valley into Arizona. Once I crossed the border I headed west to the town of Page right on the Arizona-Utah border. Right outside of Page is the Glen Canyon Dam and the resulting Lake Powell, a place of stark beauty and lots of water. The mesas and buttes are colored every shade of red, pink and orange which makes the area all the more dramatic and beautiful. I got a room at a motel for a couple nights and got ready for a day of shooting the Antelope Canyons. Officially named North Antelope and South Antelope, the two slot canyons are a photographer’s dream and I had seen many pictures of them. Documentaries, commercials and even music videos have been filmed there and I wasn’t disappointed when I saw them. I wound up only shooting South Antelope that day but promised myself to return again some day if possible.

I was running low on funds so I retraced my route back to Colorado. I didn’t stop in Boulder however, but kept going all the way to St. Cloud, Minn. I was looking forward to seeing the folks, my brother and sister, and a few friends, but mostly my son, Josh.
I decided to go ahead and spend the winter in St. Cloud, especially since my folks were going to be in San Diego until April of the next year anyway. It worked out well too since I was able to be there for Josh’s high school graduation in the spring.

A few months after the folks got home I decided it was time to head back so I packed up the car and took off. I stopped in Spearfish, South Dakota to visit June and that brings us back to where this story began, with a deer licking frost off of my windshield in Spearfish Canyon.