The Problem with Van Living Today

You can still do it – I’m sure of that. I’m not doing it though. I’m glad that I lived in VW vans back in the 1990s before there were 80 million retirees downsizing into their $100k RVs. As with most things, I blame the baby boomers. Huge numbers of them decided to stop living … Continue reading “The Problem with Van Living Today”

You can still do it – I’m sure of that. I’m not doing it though. I’m glad that I lived in VW vans back in the 1990s before there were 80 million retirees downsizing into their $100k RVs. As with most things, I blame the baby boomers. Huge numbers of them decided to stop living in houses and in typical baby boomer fashion, they screwed up living in vehicles for everyone else. They ruined the campgrounds with their RVs and generators and satellite TV noise, they drove up the prices in the campgrounds, they took up all the free parking and necessitated municipalities putting up ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs, and since most of them kept their home while they were doing it (just taking a break) they helped drive up the cost of renting or buying a home. I’m glad I was able to live in a VW in the 1990s – that may not have been as sweet a time to do it as back in the 1960s and 1970s – but it was pretty sweet. There were still lots of free campgrounds, the National Parks weren’t very expensive yet, the community of van-dwellers was small enough to be inclusive and large enough to be anonymous but not large enough to make people nervous about vehicles parked on the streets in residential neighborhoods. Unless I have to, my days of Rough Living are behind me. It’s been a long time since I lived in a VW – and I sincerely hope that all the van living I will do in the future will be for short term camping trips with my family. The solution is not to move into a vehicle any longer – if it ever was at all.

Insurance

We have insurance – just in case. Life insurance in case we die – that’s $60 per month. Auto insurance in case we have an accident in the cars that’s another $150 per month. I have health insurance through the VA and my wife provides coverage for all of us through her work – that’s another $200 per month (would be more if she didn’t have the job) – and then we have AAA towing insurance (which is the one that has provided the most value to us through the years) which is roughly $12 per month. We have other forms of insurance, but they aren’t labeled as such so I’ll just stick with these for now. These add up to $422 per month which comes out to $5064 per year. Now, let’s assume that I was a $10 per hour worker – my insurance needs wouldn’t change – so that would mean that I would be working 506 hours per year for insurance. Let me break that down – that’s slightly more than 63 days each year that I’m not getting paid but I’m working for 8 hours. That means that I’m working for the insurance companies for two months out of every year in return for the insurance.

Granted – if we need the insurance, it’s money well spent. However, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way this is done. I can see why there are so many people who go to great lengths to get disabled status (yes, there are people who are disabled but there are many who must make a big stretch to be classified as such). And yes, I could reduce our coverage and pay less. We could cancel the life insurance and AAA, we could sell our cars and use bikes and public transportation, and we could drop the health coverage to the bare legal minimums – but I’m not likely to do that – the society we live in offers too many opportunities for financial ruin – it sometimes feels as if the structure of our society has been constructed BY the insurance companies in order to harness us and force us to work (or to show ourselves unfit to be workers).

Homeowners will be quick to notice that I didn’t include homeowners insurance – we don’t own a home. We probably would own a home if we had been able to keep that $5k per year because then we would have the down payment of $20k but of course, then we would have homeowners insurance on top of the other insurance – which, frankly, to me, always makes it feel a bit like you don’t own the home at all – even after you’ve paid the bank back for the loan you had to take to get the home. After 2007, there were a lot of people who quickly discovered they didn’t actually own the home they called their own – the banks did – and still do.

There are other insurances I do not own. I can’t afford more insurance because I need to work the other ten months to pay rent, electric, water, gas, repairs, food, and to buy the things that we need to live. I appreciate the benefits of insurance, but I hate insurance.

Reality TV and Social Media

I think it’s too bad that reality TV came before social media. Before there were social media stars, there were reality TV stars and unfortunately, they were mostly assholes who became stars because of their bad behavior – and I think they may have shaped the way social media stars went about getting the spotlight.

Imagine if social media had been an opportunity for kindness and altruism to be rewarded instead of just more assholes grubbing away for attention.

But maybe that’s just a fantasy. About a decade ago I started a website called NiceHuman – the idea was that people could submit stories about nice humans – they could nominate friends, family, community members, or just point out a story where a human was nice.

At the same time, I had a website called TerrorSuspect – guess which one got all the traffic? The nice human site got so much hatred spewn in the comments section and so little traffic (not to mention people taking the time to say that someone was a nice human) that eventually, I shut it down.

We play life these days like it’s a game of Survivor or like we are all in the Big Brother House. It makes sense in a way, we are on camera most of our lives now in one way or another and our society seems to reward bad behavior while at the same time decrying the bad behavior and rewarding more.

We’ve all become selfish assholes. Or maybe the camera has just cleared away the illusion that we weren’t always selfish assholes. Either way, you are on your own. I’ll see you at tribal council.

What is a baby boomer?

I’ve mentioned them in a lot of things I’ve written about – they are the cause of virtually all the problems in the world. In case you are wondering what a baby boomer is, here is what I am talking about when I mention a baby boomer. Baby Boomer = White (non Jewish, non Hispanic) American born between 1941 and 1961. I realize that many definitions make them from later or earlier – but essentially they are kids born during or after World War II but before Vietnam to white American parents without Jewish or Hispanic heritage. There you go. Note: There are good baby boomers, but they are very rare.

special note before baby boomers leave comments: No one cares

Social Insecurity and the Unpleasant American Dream

I’m certain that I’m not alone. I have no retirement plan. There is no windfall waiting for me. No inheritance or IRA sits patiently waiting for my time of need. I have enough debt to keep me awake at night from time to time. No social safety net protects me or my family from a very hard fall – a fall that could be triggered by an accident, an extreme weather event, or sudden political chaos – all of which could be imminent. I am sure that I’m not alone in my social insecurity and the dark pit of hopelessness that looms around each and every corner. This is the unpleasant American Dream realized – constant dread of financial disaster which is coming whether I like it or not.

Is it my own fault? Certainly I have made many of the decisions that have brought me here. I could have stayed in the Marines for twenty years. I could have gone to University right after graduating high school in 1990 instead of going in the Marines and deferring a degree until 2008. I could have stayed in a number of careers that didn’t bring me joy -I could have pursued a management career in hospitality, I could have remained an Air Traffic Controller, I could have stayed a stock broker or an insurance agent, I could have stayed in Hawaii after graduating and taken any job that might have been available at the height of the recession, I could have stayed in radio, I could have persevered in a tech career after the dot-com bust, and so on. I second guess my life decisions all the time. I made them, I live with the consequences – but there is no going back. At the time, I made the best decision that I could and did what I thought was best for my future. Usually, those decisions had very little to do with finance and much more to do with things like ethics, spiritual beliefs, and an awareness that life is transitory and if I didn’t take the time to live while I was young, I would someday be old and regret that I had not. My life is worthy, my experiences a joy and comfort, and my integrity mostly intact.

But this is the United States of America – the country I was raised in was a country formed by revolutionaries and shaped by organized labor. A country with laws to protect workers, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the insane and handicapped. We were supposed to have social security and peace of mind in our old age. I’m not old yet – mid-life at worst – but I don’t see any sort of retirement or ease of living in my American future. I see a nightmare. For two decades now, I’ve seen senior citizens filling the low wage workforce – working in jobs that in my youth belonged to high school students. Senior greeters at Walmart and Senior fry cooks at McDonalds. In the 1970s and 1980s – I remember people having retirement parties when they reached age 65 – When was the last time you heard about someone actually retiring? Yes, it happens in government and maybe in some other isolated fields – but not in my world. I have some friends who will retire – but not many. Most of us will have to scrabble until the day we die for enough to pay our insurance, buy prescriptions, pay heating bills, and buy food. That’s the fate of the majority of us in the United States.

I don’t know why, but I thought we were better than that. We’ve elected billionaires who have put millionaires and billionaires in charge of the public protections and we’ve gotten what we pay for. And when you elect billionaires, one thing you can be sure of is that they want everyone to pay. There is no public safety net. There is no protection for workers. There is no future for this country except for increasing oppression against the working class and the poverty class until the pressure becomes so extreme that it explodes. We are already seeing the vents of steam jetting from the cracks – and there is more of that to come.

At some point, the United States decided that taking care of business was the best way to take care of people. That point happened somewhere between the 1950s and the 1980s – it was a gradual erosion of the New Deal until suddenly, we found ourselves living in a society where there is no longer a deal at all except perhaps for The Art of the Deal – from nurturing to shystering and exploitation.

I find a strange comfort in beating myself up at not having made the right choices – but if I had made different choices, I could easily have found myself in worse conditions than those I live in now. The Marines and ATC could have led to an early death from alcoholism, radio has merged and consolidated until only the most talented are able to achieve careers, I could have been a dot-com has been, or a real estate tycoon who lost everything in the recession, the soul sucking work of selling stock (let’s make money from this war Bob!) could easily have led to suicide, and the list goes on. There’s really no reason or purpose in beating myself up over the past.

The future though – it is that which worries me. I cannot see a future that I want to be a part of in the United States. I cannot see a future that I want my child to be a part of in the United States. When I attempt to see the future here, I see tragedy and hardship. I wanted to come back to my country and succeed. I wanted to come back to my country and find a future I could believe in. I am trying. I am really trying to see past the storm on the horizon. From my perspective though – it just looks like it will get worse and worse and worse with no prospect for a sunny day.