A Life in Transit
"To take roots to me means cutting off avenues of escape, avenues of communication with the rest of the world. So that against the wish for repose, there is an impulse to remain mobile, fluid, to change surroundings." - Anais Nin from the Diary of Anais Nin Vol. V.
I dream of my escape. From the center of Stewart Elementary’s baseball field, our physical education coach waves me farther into the outfield with exaggerated hand movements. "More left," he yells. "Further back." Its a position that may get a lot of action on SportCenter, but the fifth grade recess outfield grants me a cherished time-out. With the temperature topping one hundred degrees, my goal is to move as little as possible. If only I had a pocket-sized bedroom I could snap together like a plastic Playskool shed. A refuge I could bring with me anywhere.
There is an entire culture of people who must have had the same dream: a group for whom the need to be home is pressing; yet the thought of a Super Wal-Mart cul-de-sac community is a nightmare. A mobile home should be, by definition, mobile. If mobility involves cutting your house in half, removing its contents like pieces in a dollhouse, and propping it up on a semi truck with a "CAUTION WIDE LOAD" sign, how mobile is it? What we refer to as "Mobile Homes" in America should be renamed Manufactured Homes or even Non-Permanent Homes. The mobile homes I’m interested in are truly mobile. They allow owners to change their view given a stretch of road and an afternoon.
"When you live in a RV, you’re always home," writes a woman who claims her recreational vehicle as her permanent residence. With more amenities than some apartments, the plushest of recreational vehicles can include separate living, dining, bathing and sleeping areas, a washer and dryer, central heat and air, a refrigerator and even satellite television. However well-equipped, space remains a rare commodity in motor homes. "Full-timers" trade extras like pottery dishes for plastic-ware and limit their wardrobe to a few sets of casual wear and one dress outfit.
Mobile living doesn’t necessitate constant transit. Rest stops, abandoned roads and friend’s backyards can provide free short-term breaks from the highway. For longer stationary periods, many campgrounds offer RV-friendly lots for around ten dollars a night. Most offer water and gas hookups for an extra charge and more nature than any strip mall lined sub-division will ever have it’s commitment-phobic’s American dream.
Some mobile travelers have embraced the "other" two-thirds of our earth as a great personal oasis, hugging the earth’s coastline in houseboats. With only a dangling connection to the sea bottom, a houseboat is moving even when it appears to be still. It can provide a sense of perpetual motion, with the faithful promise of a dock each morning. Houseboats became popular in France in the late 1920s. Anais Nin spent some of her most creative years in her houseboat on the Seine. In America, houseboats had their heyday among artists in the 1950s, before city code regulations drove up costs.
The floating home can still be an inexpensive alternative to permanent housing. Of the one hundred or so houseboats in Mississippi River’s Latsch Island Community, twenty-five are occupied by live-aboard residents, and many of these floating homes have been assembled by their owners using construction site discards, old car motors, and barrels for flotation. The seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin in New York City is home to 120 year-round residents. One Boat Basin dweller rotates each year between working as a sound engineer at a large radio production company and sailing the eastern seaboard. Others take advantage of Manhattan’s rich job market, working as temps and saving just enough money for the next sea voyage. Not exactly the "Sex in the City" Manhattan lifestyle.
Suped up RVs and constantly mobile houseboats can be just as costly as an apartment thus a full kitchen and bathroom aren’t always necessary. Just ask the troupe of Volkswagen owners who maintain a website dedicated to living out of their cars. Articles give lessons on using an automobile’s engine for cooking. Baking times are given in miles instead of hours. Another site provides tips on how to insulate a car for extreme weather conditions, the best places to park, and how to handle middle of the night police disturbances. In Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, a long bearded thirty-something man lives in his International Scout, parking it at night alongside defunct factory buildings bordering the East River. The back of his hipster SUV is just big enough for a futon bed, a wooden container to store belongings and a metal rod for clothes.
If what you own really does own you, how liberating it must be to possess so little you don’t need moving boxes or a friend’s pickup to relocate. Just think how much pleasure must come from seeing the first Jack in the Box appear out of a one hundred mile stretch, discovering a marina’s vending machine, or surrendering to the cozy freshness of the All-Night Laundromat on a Brooklyn winter night. Such is the joy of a life in transit.