On the last episode of From Inside the Box, we found our pickup truck protagonist in the throes of a struggle for survival: not of flesh, but of his very livelihood. Where will he go? What will he do? Will he ever understand why kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch™? Find out
on this episode eventually…maybe.
Just kidding. I don't plan to talk about any of those things today. Instead, we're going to talk about poor decisions, getting in the holiday spirit, and how any of that relates to truck stuff. Oh, and apologies for my silence and general tardiness with getting new posts out, rest assured that there are more in the pipeline (tech, home improvement, and philosophy, oh my!). But anyway, let's see what the past two (fairly truckless) weeks have been like.
Flying Home: The Story of Las Vegas
I'd been planning to go home for the two weeks leading up to (and including) New Years, but it wasn't until I actually sat down to look at the flights that something interesting happened. The best (read: cheapest) flight that I could find had a 30-hour layover in Las Vegas. For the uninitiated, Vegas is basically the physical manifestation of every American stereotype, magnified a hundred times over. It proudly exploits every human failing and mortal vice, packaged together and wrapped with lights, hundred dollar bills, liquor, and strip clubs. It's grandiose, excessive, wasteful to the point of comedy, and stands boastfully in the face of everything I believe in.
Brandon, if you knew all of this, why the hell did you even go? Plus, it may have been the cheapest flight, but that's not counting the cost of being in Vegas and the hotel room.
Well that's the thing. I was curious, and despite knowing how well that worked out for the cat, I wanted to get a closer look. And as far as the hotel goes, I had this crazy idea that I just wouldn't get one. My (later proven to be bad) thought process was something along the lines of:
I've spent the past
sixseven months without legitimate housing, what's one more night? Vegas is the city that never sleeps (or something like that), I'll just stay up and explore, then crash at the airport before my flight.
-A two-week younger Brandon
It sounded like a plan to me (at the time), so I booked the flight.
When my Friday flight rolled around, I went about my morning routine as normal. Gym, shower, get dressed, etc, but then instead of heading into work, I headed back to the truck* to pack my bag. Just like when I went camping, packing (even for two weeks) proved to be a breeze, and I quickly left my truck with nothing more than a small gym bag. I should mention that I'm still dealing with a residual leak that I haven't tracked down yet, so I put a garbage bag underneath the affected area to (hopefully) catch any little dribbles. On returning this past Sunday night, I found a bit of water in the bag, though not nearly as much as I was expecting given the rain we had here while I was gone. This means one of two things: water wasn't making it into the bag, or my various hole-fixing endeavors are paying off. More research is required.
My less-than-elegant answer to El Niño.
Onwards, To Vegas
Whilst in my Uber on the way to the airport, I called my bank and asked them to limit withdrawals from my account to $500 for the next few days. I figured that'd last me the night in Vegas, and prevent a drunker, more ambitious version of me from emptying out my accounts (which did indeed happen).
Hold up, I could have sworn you recently said you were saving for an early retirement? What the hell are you doing going to Vegas?
I know, I know, Vegas is the last place on the planet I should be if I'm super serious about retiring early, and I can feel the intense disapproval of Mustachians everywhere. Even with my limited understanding of statistics, I knew I was never going to see that $500 again (spoiler alert: It's definitely gone), but I wasn't treating this like an investment strategy. I could try to justify it with the unexpected $500 bonus I got a few weeks ago, but that could have just as easily been put to literally anything else. I'm thinking of it more like $500 spent on a once in a lifetime experience**. And I'm very much one for experiences over stuff, so this was an an expense I was willing to foot the bill for.
After a few short hours of people-watching (a favorite pastime of mine) in SFO, I found myself enjoying the modern marvel of human aviation. Once I landed in LAS, I grabbed a shuttle into town and dropped my gym bag off at a random hotel on The Strip, then it was off to the (proverbial, but also kind of literal) races. It didn't take me long to get acquainted; a slot machine devoured my first $20 in approximately 15 seconds. I definitely wasn't in
Kansas the relative financial safety of my truck anymore. I figured the best 2:1 odds I'd find were ~47%, playing Roulette. My $500 turned into $1,000, which then turned into a whopping $0 over the course of a few hours, but that's Vegas.
I spent the remainder of my time making conversation with interesting strangers (good), getting far too drunk at several different open-bar clubs (bad), and wandering the (fairly cold) streets of Las Vegas from roughly 3 to 8 AM while waiting until I could go to the airport (very bad). That last one in particular really killed the whole "Vegas experience" for me, partly because cold, hungover, exhausted Brandon isn't a happy Brandon, and partly because Vegas is a sad, sad place at 4 in the morning. Homelessness is rampant in Vegas, and that's never more apparent than in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the people I saw seem to have just lost their way in life, but I felt helpless seeing their pain and suffering, especially juxtaposed with the opulence and extravagance of the world around them. The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.
Well that took a turn for the darker. There is a bright side though, in that there are tons of organizations dedicated to fighting homelessness. I've been donating to HandUp recently because I like their approach to solving the problem (in San Francisco) on an individualized basis. Plus, a generous corporate matching initiative more than doubled all donations to that organization last month. As per the article I linked above, Help of Southern Nevada orchestrates homeless outreach programs in the Las Vegas area.
Getting in the Spirit
Aside from the fact that Christmas music starts playing nonstop a day after Halloween, I love the holidays. Reconnecting with old friends, hanging with family, and drinking obscene amounts of eggnog rank pretty highly on my Things That Definitely Have To Happen While I'm Home And It's Winter™ List. That said, I normally make other peoples' lives difficult because I'm notoriously hard to shop for. I always have everything that I could ever need (and then some), plus this year I live in a truck, so I don't have space for more things, even if I did want them. I consider this to be a good thing, and most people were happy to oblige my request of "Please don't get me anything", understanding that I just wouldn't even know where to put a gift.
I say "most" people, because much to my chagrin, my mother's home was filled with presents of all shapes and sizes, more than a few of which were emblazoned with my name. This put me in a somewhat awkward position. On one hand, I didn't want to be a massive Grinch and tell her to return all of her well-meaning gifts. But on the other hand, I make a very conscious effort to not drag around things I don't need, and I was pretty confident I had everything I needed. Luckily, the issue resolved itself because all of my gifts were very well-thought out. In no particular order, I received:
- Top Gear Premium Roadside Assistance Kit This was pretty much the perfect gift, because it showed me that, as much as I like to think I'm prepared for all reasonable eventualities, I'm actually pretty lacking. Considering I'm someone whose livelihood revolves around the questionable performance of an old box truck, it's mildly shocking that I didn't even own a pair of jumper cables. This was as much a gift as it was a lesson.
- Tire Repair Kit Right in line with the above, I'd have been pretty screwed in the (not entirely unlikely) event that I got a flat tire.
- Various warm and soft articles of clothing For those times when the weather is slightly less than ideal.
- A website and accompanying surprise When asking what I wanted for Christmas, my sister wouldn't take "Nothing" as an answer. I wracked my brain for a little bit, and eventually told her that if she was dead set on getting me a gift, she could make me a website. My reasoning was that taking the time to learn how to program and making a gift is far more meaningful than purchasing something, plus it's a useful skill she'd have for the rest of her life, and it's something for us to bond over, and to top it all off, it doesn't take up my precious, limited truck space. So it sounded like a win-win-win to me. And bless her heart, she totally nailed it. Not only did she make a totally kick-ass website, but she also hid a set of questions in it that, when answered correctly, gave me the combination to a lock box containing a Samsung Gear S2. Clearly I'm not the only one in the family Thinking Inside The Box™®©.
All in all, I had a wonderful vacation, and I'm incredibly grateful to have family and friends who are exceptionally supportive (as evident from the thoughtful, relevant gifts) of all the weird stuff that I do. Less importantly, but still certainly worth noting, this vacation marked the longest period of time I'd spent sleeping in Real People Houses™ since May, which meant I had some time to see/remember how the other half (read: 99.8%) live. You'd think this would be an upgrade, but I found myself missing some of the things I've started to take for granted in truck life. For example, I did a lot of couch-surfing with family and friends, and each bed gave me a different set of weird dreams and a different set of weird pains. Sure, given another day or two, I would have adjusted to the new situations, but, as I noted that time I accidentally moved to a different city, the truck is the same regardless of where on the planet it is, which is a nice feature. As weird as it may be, I did occasionally find myself daydreaming about the cozy homeyness of my rickety, riveted residence. So I'm glad to be back, and glad to be starting off a new year with my
trusty rusty steel steed by my side.
*I had parked the truck in a place where it could safely stay for the two weeks I was home.
**Mainly because I have no intentions of ever going back.