Austin, TX – March 20, 2018
I was at the autoparts store getting some stuff for the van when I noticed ambulances coming down the road. I was exhausted so I didn’t think anything of it – I had been working on the van build for three months straight, with only a few days off. My daily life was that of a construction worker, working 3-12 hours per day, using my body to build my new home from scratch. It was tiring and painful, but also incredibly rewarding.
There were only a few more things that I needed for the van, and the departure date was approaching fast. After my purchase of a steering wheel cover, tire pressure gauge, and tropical-themed sun shade, I went out to the van to test my new items. But alas, the steering wheel cover did not fit my Ford E350 Cargo Van’s oversized steering wheel. That’s when I noticed how crowded the parking lot had become. I thought that was strange since it was pretty much empty when I first parked. Back inside, I returned my failed steering wheel cover, and the clerks were whispering. My stomach felt heavy, and I knew something was not right. When I returned to the parking lot, it had reached critical mass. It was filled to the brim with press, cops, and gridlock traffic that had been rerouted from the street which was now blocked off by unusual police cars. I was trapped. I asked one of the guys with a press badge, “What’s going on?”
“Looks like there’s been another bombing,” he said.
In March of 2018, Austin made national news because of several bombings that had occurred at private residences all over the city. Someone had been mailing unmarked packages containing bombs to random houses. When they were retrieved by their recipient, they would explode. Sounds like a movie, but this was real. Several friends and family members reached out to me during that time, “Don’t check your mail!” This was the seventh and final box bomb incident, and though I was nowhere near the bomb, it still affected me. It ended up being just an incendiary device contained inside a donation box that was dropped off at Goodwill down the street from the autoparts store. It did not explode, just designed to start a fire, burning a Goodwill employee who was taken to the hospital. He was fine.
The next morning, March 21, they caught the guy, but he blew himself up before SWAT could arrest him. He was only 23.
The incident was a wake up call for me. I felt like I was in a Dalí painting. This stuff NEVER happens…. Right? But it did. It did not influence my decision to live the vanlife as I was only a few days away from my departure date. But the incident served as an affirmation that I was on the right track with my lifestyle change. The rate of public shootings continues to escalate exponentially. There have already been more shootings in the U.S. this month (Jan 2019) than an entire year in any other country in the history of the planet. If there are members of our society that are hurting enough to resort to hurting others, then we have some serious soul-searching to do as a species. There must be something broken somewhere in our culture. With all the knowledge and resources available to us, how could it be that a 23-yr-old could go that far? Psychologists now say that depression is a disease of lifestyle, not a neurological imbalance. With proper exercise, a healthy diet, sunshine, and loved ones, there’s not much we can’t fix. So I don’t believe there is something wrong with who we are; there must be something wrong with what we’re doing that is out of alignment with who we are. Perhaps we’re not meant to sit on our butts all day, perhaps we’re not meant to live inside boxes all day, perhaps we’re not meant to be so independent, perhaps we’re not meant to eat this kind of food, perhaps we’re not meant to be chained to one spot, and perhaps we’re not meant to work all day everyday. In Japan, suicides from being overworked are so common that they now have a word for it: Karoshi. We’ve been hunting & gathering, traveling with the seasons, staying together to survive, for hundred of thousands of years. But our environment & lifestyle have rapidly mutated only in the past few hundred years. I believe there’s something inherently wrong with how we live. Our sickness is a spiritual one, our inner-conflict is an existential one, pushing many of us out of alignment with who we truly are. I’ve felt it deep down inside, as I’m sure you have at times. It’s subtle, but enduring, and it doesn’t go away, it only gets stronger. Perhaps we are meant for something greater.
Horrified by the box bomber, I did some research on him. I felt I knew him because I’ve been there. I would find help for myself before going as far as hurting another human being, but I can easily see how one could get to that point. There have been several periods in my life where I have felt utterly alone and spiritually lost in my pursuit of personal wealth and achievement to pay for a lifestyle that I didn’t even really want. But as a child, that’s how I was taught to get not only happiness, but also acceptance and love within the social stratification system we live in. As a talented, educated, ambitious, outgoing young man in Austin, it was easy for me to achieve. I had everything – a six figure business, nice apartment with four pools, full gym, fast car, I traveled constantly, I was in charge of my time & my life, and I even enjoyed what I did for a living. But I still wasn’t happy. How could that be? I felt like a rat in a maze, racing after the smell of cheese. Only the maze never ends, and there is no cheese. Why is our life system designed this way? Why do we work to pay bills? Why do I need a credit card just to survive? I feel we can and should trust the evolution of billions of humans and thousands of years of civilization, but is this really the best we can do? As the cost of living rises and average income decreases, it makes less and less sense to me to pay for a lease or mortgage that chains my neck to nothing more than a cage. But it’s ok! We have all the coffee, sugar, marijuana, and Netflix to keep us numb to the growing feeling deep down inside that something just isn’t right.
It took me a year of living in a van to finally understand that I was simply doing what everybody else told me to do – living by society’s definition of success and happiness – rather than defining what that meant for myself. What it means to be “successful” is changing for everybody now. In my opinion, I had contracted the same disease as the serial box bomber. But I chose to deal with my pain in a different way. Instead of hurting others, I chose to distract myself with alcohol, drugs, sugar, Netflix, painting, travel, hanging with friends. But eventually I found that none of these coping mechanisms cured my spiritual sickness; they only dealt with the symptoms. So I chose to completely get rid of the lifestyle altogether.
“This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.”– Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
At first, I thought the van was about rebelling against our current system (pursuit of material wealth, debt, the 9-5 rat race, production & consumption). But then it became about taking my life into my own hands by first getting to know myself well enough to know what I truly want, then simply putting those wants into action. Through this process of self-discovery and self-action, instead of being a passenger going where everybody else said I should go, I became the driver of my life.
“What’s your road, man? – holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. Where body how?”– Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
You can tell a lot about somebody by how they drive. What kind of driver are you? What speed do you drive? What routes do you take? What kind of car do you drive? Do you rage when an obstacle presents itself – when you get stuck behind a slowpoke? Where are you going – are you trying to get somewhere? Or are you just enjoying the ride? Do you use GPS to tell you where to go, or do you just haul ass like a bat out of hell and let your gut instincts lead you nowhere specific, but somehow find yourself exactly where you’re supposed to be? There’s no right or wrong driving technique, it’s up to you. But at least be conscious of what type of driver you are. The way I like to do it is living life at 70mph, full speed ahead, pedal to the floor, hang on to your hats fellas, always on the move, split-second decisions, too many things to do and see, too many people to help, go go go! I was made for this shit! I always have a destination in mind, and I know I’ll get there eventually, but it never happens the way I expect. So I’ve learned to trust that the road itself knows better than me what route to take.
“To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.”– Walt Whitman, Song for the Open Road, 1856