This is the routine. We pull in to one of three Walmart locations in the Denver area. We actually have it narrowed down to two, as something about the Hampden Street location feels weird. So we pull in to our spot, we turn the chairs around, and I move my bag of computer and camera gear to behind the front side passenger seat. We swivel the drivers seat in, and the passenger seat to face the rear cabin. We get out of the van and clean up our area if it needs it. I can’t stand living in someone elses filth, and I sure as hell don’t want anyone thinking the 50 or so cigarette butts outside my window are actually mine. So we sweep up that mess.
Today we had to throw away soggy old bags of food that were left behind, a pizza box with mushy, moldy pizza slices in it, two coke cans and a spray bottle of axe for men. I can just imagine the jerkoff spraying his nuts with it, as if that’s going to somehow help. The mess had been there for days, and I didn’t park in this spot once because of it, but the location is prime, one of the darkest spots, away from the overhead parking lights.
Out here on the outer edge of the Walmart parking lot, it’s kind of a no man’s land. The carts out here don’t get retrieved for weeks. The same plastic bag and old banana peel have been sitting in that spot three spots down every day we’ve slept in this lot. So we’ll clean it up, that’s the least we can do. As I type this a Toyota Tundra rolls by, with a bro on a cell phone, gunning the accelerator to hear that muscle car sounding engine, a Walmart superstar. After we get settled in, we might eat something if we’re hungry. We’ll close the curtains all the way around, the entire van engulfed in green polyester. It keeps the light out, and no one can see in if we don’t want them to. I turn on the propane and make some tea to get over the urban camping adventure jitters. We had to fight our way through a crowded mall today to get Maizy her glasses. There was a Lego extravaganza (The Lego Americana Roadshow) going on, and the kids were lined up by the hundreds getting free lego sets, and snapping selfies, and making videos, and instagramming all the amazing lego sculptures.
So we need that tea. Have you ever been in a lego store that is packed to the gills? It’s crazy. The smell off dirty diapers in the air, the feeling of complete strangers rubbing up against your body as you walk through the store, because there is no choice, it’s that crowded. It was a living nightmare, and I had to coax Penny out very carefully. I decided to do it quick, because today was not a day to lollygag in the Lego store, it was just completely too much. We still ended up staying about twenty or thirty minutes, because Penny loves legos, and she loves people and crowds, so I guess we play a little give and take so we don’t all make each other completely miserable.
It’s a dynamic we are still navigating. Every day is a challenge, teaching a 5-year-old how to live is hard work. It takes perseverance, patience and persistence. You have to repeat yourself infinitely, until one day it just clicks. And then you breathe a sigh of relief, and you celebrate this little victory and you steel yourself for the next lesson.
We do this every night, setting up beds, making bathroom runs, eating lunches made from grocery store delis, or heating up soup on the stove. Some nights we’ve been pretty cold, but nothing that we haven’t been able to endure. When it starts feeling extreme, we light up the buddy heater and it warms us all right up. We drink some hot cocoa or some tea, eat some hot food, bundle up, and settle down to sleep, side by side by side, just enough room.
Once we leave the city, and the need to be discreet is no longer necessary, we will pop up the roof, and we will all feel like we have just been granted entry to a giant palace. The ability to stand up without bending over will be much appreciated.
It hasn’t been all bad at Walmart, but it hasn’t been all butterflies and rainbows the whole time either. Last night a guy was racing his muscle car around the opposite corner of the lot, doing donuts and other daredevil type stuff. Drag racing the parking lanes. I imagine whoever was driving must have just gotten out of the midnight showing of Furious 7 and was having a Vin Diesel moment. Either way, the driver of that car made me nervous. I had visions of dying a fiery death as some guy did a donut right into my van.
The night before that, an old couple ran their generator of their RV all night long. For them I imagine they need a CPAP machine overnight or something, because otherwise why would you put up with that racket in your own place if your life didn’t depend on it? It must be loud to them too. So we say WTF and we move on. #Vanlife.
Right now Penny is playing with some legos she got for her birthday, and it’s quiet and calm. The lot is busy, but you get used to the cars going by so often, they are barely perceptible in the background, unless your tuning into them.
These are our days, people watching at Walmart by night, setting up our little stealth camp, surviving and learning how to get by. We make our bed every night, and put it away every morning, we sweep out the van every day, we are constantly doing laundry, but the extra space of having less clothes is worth it.
We frequent the library often, and I’m here right this moment, charging my laptop so we can have the three hours of battery life tonight. We have 18 days left before we finally hit the road. Then we will become traveling houseless people, instead of just Walmart dwellers. I can’t wait.