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13# First steps in the van life

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

A new pleasure I found is to see how awkward people can get. Once out of your comfort zone, you realize that nothing bad happens, it was all in your head. Seeing how people reacted to silly situations had become a source of laughter, a naughty satisfaction.

The past weeks were productive. With a lot of work and help, we finished building la Chichona within twenty days. Everything was coming together. The structural work was over and most of the appliances were ready. I had a comfortable bed, an office with electricity, a sink, a kitchen and even a fridge. La Chichona was finally equipped for someone to live in it. I wanted to get used to the van-life in Montreal before venturing on the road. I had a couple of weeks to adjust before winter, before the great escape.

When you live in a van, the first question that comes to mind is where to spend the night. I tried several options, and learnt the hard way. The most annoying thing was to be rocked in bed by a car driving by. It felt like being on a raft in the middle of a storm. That quiet spot with no overnight restrictions or passing cars was the reward after the search.

After surviving the first nights, I set up my morning routine… coffee! With a proper sink, I could rinse my face, brush my teeth and prepare breakfast. A warm coffee in the morning, privacy and a good night sleep. Those little things made all the difference.

Organization is paramount to life in a tiny space. My closet was also the food compartment, the bench, and the couch. Looking for an item was a quest on its own. You need to know exactly where your things are or spend most of your time searching for them. Only experience teaches what is useful or important. Storage design takes on a new dimension.

I didn’t want to deal with bad smells and water leaks inside la Chichona. So I chose not to have a shower or a toilet. Showering became an everyday adventure. The initial idea was to shower at the gym. That way, I would be forced to exercise every day. Sounds good…doesn’t work.

I ended up abusing my friends’ hospitality, showering whenever I could. At all times, I carried a clean outfit and a toiletry bag. This new habit made me bold and carefree. Being clean became more important than whatever people thought of me. After the first uncomfortable requests, asking to use the shower became as casual as asking for a glass of water.

The second challenge of la Chichona was finding a toilet. Every man living in a van has a pee bottle, it’s easy and convenient. No need to step outside in the middle of the night. Number two is trickier, especially for someone with public restroom anxiety. Before the van life, there was no way I could poop outside my house. I needed a clean toilet, jazz music, lots of space, amber incense and enough time to carry my business… So much for taking a shit!

One day, I was in Canadian Tire looking for kitchen accessories. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast but my stomach did. It was on fire, crackling like the statue at the end of the Burning Man festival. I had to go... NOW!

I rushed to the men’s bathroom. It was busy. Without a second thought, I pushed the women’s door and closed it after me… And then the symphony began. Ten minutes of bowel fireworks must have resonated to Canadian Tire headquarters. There was an aggressive knock on the door.

I yelled busy but an old voice kept shouting “it’s a women’s bathroom, get out!”. At that point, I ran out of shits to give. I took my time to finish my business and left the bathroom in a radioactive state. As I finally opened the door, the old woman spat rage from her eyes. I gave her my best smile and walked away, light and free.

These daily challenges taught me to be carefree. I made a game out of it. Willingly, I pushed the discomfort to see how awkward people would get. After a couple of weeks living in la Chichona, I acquired a new set of superpowers. Being able to poop anywhere was the best of them.

Former limits, like people’s judgements, became a source of amusement. And when you get rid of the useless clutter, it’s crazy how life gets easier!


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