Your best take: Living in a van

Becky Blanton's tale of homelessness elicits a reminder that "dropping out" was once an enviable lifestyle choice


Salon Staff
January 27, 2011 11:28PM (UTC)

Becky Blanton's tale of living in her van -- and her sympathy for viral video star Ted Williams, who fled rehab earlier this week -- was intense. And so was the letter response. Praise, yes, but also heartrending hard-luck stories: "I'm a 57 y/o former construction worker living in a 22y/o, 24'motorhome," wrote beemerron. "I'm recovering from a broken hip and arm that happened 6 weeks after losing my COBRA coverage last July. I've been selling personal belongings to pay my lot rent and other bills.

"The comments are as good as the article,"wrote maxmaw, who went on to point out: "It is not a cliche to note that the safety net is full of holes, and many of us are in danger of falling through; we have become redundant in the workplace, dulled by age, and slowly fading from view."

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But our letter of the day comes from confetti, who reminds us that living in your van was once considered an enviable lifestyle choice.

Great article

Funny that no one mentions that once upon a time a substantial portion of an entire generation left comfortable (and uncomfortable) homes to live on the road. That actual experience has long been annihilated under a lot of media distortion and dumb stereotype, but for those of us who spent a few years during that time long time ago, thumbing around the country, sleeping by the side of the road and on beaches and in forests and sneaked-into garages and barns and dirty old gas-station bathrooms if it got too cold (yes, they'd just let you, sometimes, if you left early), and once, for me, on a median strip between a lot of lanes with the car-lights parting around me like dazzling rivers, living on peanut butter and popcorn and bananas and whatever could be easily scrounged, it was about slowly losing all sorts of terrible gnawing internal pressures that you don't even know about unless you've been without them.

For some, it's a nostalgia that never goes away. Dropping out. Just dropping OUT. That it was even possible was a revelation and a mystery.

It wasn't really that big pot-hazed party-orgy floated on Daddy's trust fund that history invented, although that happened in some places, sometimes, too. I didn't like that stuff much and ran across many who were the same. I hitched across the country alone, five times, meandering back and forth, never with more than $5 in my pocket - a lot of us did. What I remember is stars and roads and the scary, magical, complicated anonymity of big cities, and feeling like I was drifting free on a secret current running in perfect invisibility through that other, driven, unhappy world. Right in the real weather.

It's a dimension that in some ways really is safer than the one that I, or we, finally dissolved back into. Just safer from different things.

I'm getting to be an old lady now, but I after I work my week, and pay my taxes, I still sometimes spend a Saturday night in a sleeping bag on the grass outside, hidden from my neighbors, on my own damned lawn, and I pretend that it never ended. It all had to fall apart of course - I knew it had when I stumbled across that first Life magazine article with hazy pictures of "real hippies." Damn. Discovered.

Homelessness forced by poverty or addiction is a horror, but those folks sometimes find something else, too, and that's why it's so hard to drag a lot of them back inside again. Becky hit a hard personal grief pocket when she was well-heeled and in the bag, and she needed a kind of space that has nothing to do with homeless shelters and job programs. She writes about it well, too. A very different story with different reasons, but also the same, maybe timeless.

Sorry this was so long, it plucked a resonant string. I think for a lot of people here. Prosit, Becky.

 


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