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.

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2 comments on “Chautauqua. Habitats.

  1. Ha, I slept in my friends car in Vegas cause we went for the weekend during a Dead Head concert at UNLV. There was not a room to be found so we pulled into the parking garage of one of the larger hotels and he and his wife and I ducked down low so we wouldn’t be seen by the security people. Boy there were a lot of freaks there that weekend, I fit right in!
    I actually won several 600 dollar jackpots at the Four Queens playing the slots one quarter at a time. We only went wth three coffee cans full of change!
    You make it sound so “romantic” like a modern day Walden by Thoreau…
    I think I’ll keep reading……

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