Sunday, July 18, 2004

Vanabond



If I seem to have dropped off the face of the earth it's because for the past two months I've been...

a carpenter.

You know, like Jesus.

Where should I start with this story? OK, I guess, as a little kid of about ten or so, I remember having this odd recurring dream. It started out as a daydream I would have before I fell asleep, but it worked its way into my night dreams too -- between the dreams about flying around in X-wings and jumping large objects on my bicycle. Anyway, this dream was a little odd because of how mundane it was -- it consisted solely of imagining myself living out of a pickup truck. I imagined lying in the back of a truck with one of those small camper shells on it, with a bed and little cabinets for clothes, and being able to go anywhere with it. I suppose, on an abstract level, the dream was about independence. But, on the concrete level, it was about living out of a car. Odd dream for a ten year old, but, I guess I've always been an odd kid. After awhile this dream morphed into a dream of being a truck driver -- you must forgive me, this was during the heyday of truck driving movies and "BJ and The Bear" episodes. But, still, if you're having any fun as an adult at all, those daydreams you have as a kid stick with you and influence your life. And, a decade or so ago I even got a nice pickup truck with a shell, motivated in no small part by this dream I had as a kid. However, as an adult, it turns out I had grown a couple of inconvenient feet since being ten, and my adult body just couldn't sleep comfortably in the truck, even without cabinets. I still did quite a bit of camping in the red truck, but it was always too cramped and a pain in the butt -- just not enough space. And I happily sold it in Maui after shipping it there to use for two years. But, now, that mundane daydream has come back with a vengeance...

And it's been expanded a bit. And, of course, now the ten year old knows all about surfing, so it has to be the ultimate surf wagon. I wanted something big enough, but not so big it would attract attention -- I wanted to avoid getting hassled by The Man when parking in unusual spots, and I wanted to be able to park in normal spots -- so an RV was out, and I wanted a vehicle that was as anonymous on the outside as possible. Also, I wanted to ship it to Maui -- so I was constrained by Matson's auto shipping restrictions of being under 7' tall and 20' long. So, I took my tape measure and bought a 6'11" tall by 19'6" long 2000 Ford Econoline 15 passenger van from Colorado Mountain Express -- a ski shuttle company that sells off part of its fleet every spring. It's BIG, it's white, and it is the focus of much obsession -- thus, it has been christened: The Whale.

And for the past two months I've been working on and in The Whale. Before leaving Colorado I played around with a fantastic CAD program made for doing woodworking projects called Design Intuition. I laid out the interior I'd build: elevated bed platform with room for six surfboards and windsurfing gear underneath, several cabinets, drawers, shelves, a sink, closet, pullout desk for laptop, etc. -- and the program let me spin everything around and look at it in 3D. Now it was just a matter of putting it together out of wood. No problem, couple of weeks with a skilsaw, right? Ha! As soon as I got to San Diego I set to work tearing out the existing seats and interior and filling it with my daydream. If I had tried to do it with a normal, decent set of woodworking tools it never would have worked -- what I was trying to do was basically build a kitchen and office interior, but fit it into a space that was full of funny curved spaces and jutting pieces. If it weren't for my friend Sue, I would have been stuck cursing at inadequate tools for many months. However, Sue saved my butt, because it turns out she has the Woodshop Of The Gods in her garage, and I've been there ten hours every day for the past month. Crap! I've practically been working as an employed person! Scary, but, it's been for a good cause, and it's not like I'm making money. In fact, the materials have set me back quite a bit -- thousand dollars in wood alone, five hundred screws -- five hundred! -- and lots of other random supplies like fancy hinges, drawer hardware, and L-brackets. And the tools I've used... here, I'll try to list them: table saw, band saw, drill press, joiner, table router, drum sander, belt sander, biscuit cutter, circular saw, strut saw, circular sander, dremel, skilsaw, chisels, clamps, levels, rulers, tape measures, miters, angle guides, fence tools, circle cutters, hand router, screwdrivers, hammers, hand saws, finishing sander, detail sander, impact driver, planes, files, and innumerable other small hand tools and special bits for the cordless drill which seems to have become a permanent extension of my right hand. THANKS SUE!

I worked my butt off. Hell, I was a kid who failed woodshop at thirteen, but now I feel like a decent carpenter, rich with the knowledge and appreciation of basic joinery. And, lo, I look upon The Whale, and I say, it is good. I've inhaled my own body weight in sawdust, but the wood cutting is done. This past week I've been wiring up the electrical system -- getting the laptop wired in and LED interior lights hooked up to a second marine battery attached to the main. And I've been spending a lot of time with a wonderful girl, C, here in San Diego who even seems maybe crazy enough to share my daydream with me and cruise around in The Whale for awhile. She's been helping me decorate. Now I just need to finish up a few details, install the water pump and plumbing, then seal and finish the wood. I figure this should take a week or two, which means it will really take three or four. Then, when it's all done, there are two things I want to do: First, throw a party out of the van here in San Diego overlooking the ocean. Second, show up on your street for a few days, just to say hello. ;) Then, after a pilgrimage to The Burn in September, I expect to ship The Whale to Maui and continue to make my inner ten year old very happy.

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gar@lisi.com