Earle

“Earle never let me down in ten years,” Susan said.

Her husband, Mike, said, “When things go wrong, I fix them.”

I handed over $1400 and promised to take good care of Earle. Bad luck to change names.

Earle is a ’92 Chevy Astro van, about four-fifths the size of most vans, a coppery brown box with windows all around. Behind the front doors, there is a sliding door on the passenger side and a rear tailgate window that lifts above two lower half-doors.

General Motors produced this basic model for twenty years. It has an automatic transmission with overdrive (20 mpg) and a V6 4.3 liter engine reputed good for 250,000 miles if well maintained. Earle was nearly there at 237,000, but if it could make it from Seattle to Maine I thought I could baby it along for some time. And, it was not rusted! In a twenty year old Maine car you can generally see the road through the floor. If Earle’s engine or transmission gave out, it would be worth replacing them.

My plan was to turn the van into a simple and independent home that I could afford. I designed various bed/storage arrangements, but they didn’t feel right. You sit down on a bed from a standing position, and when you get out of bed you stand up. Neither is possible in Earle (or any full sized van). You can stand in a high top conversion, but that would be a hall of a life (sorry).

I decided to go Japanese, sleeping, cooking, eating, etc. on a low platform. The proportions are more pleasing, plenty of head room when sleeping or sitting cross-legged. Finn improved my design immensely by suggesting that I put my feet down in a center opening rather than along one edge of the platform.

I built a 76″ by 50″ frame of 2×6’s, divided into five compartments—two smaller ones on either side of a large (30″ x 50″) central area. I cut lids for the compartments from a sheet of 3/4″ birch plywood—one lid for each small compartment and three for the central foot area (to allow different configurations for the opening). Each lid has a finger hole for lifting. The lids rest on hardwood strips screwed to the inside of the frame so that they close flush with the top of the frame. At night they are all in place to support bedding. In the daytime I remove one or more of the central lids so that I can sit on any side with my feet on a small rug in the center. I applied a few coats of tung oil and called it done.

Van dwellers assured me on the internet that a roof vent was indispensable. Just cut a hole in the roof and install one. Right. More about that in the next post.

In sum, Earle made it to Maine. I am now improving systems while musing about homes, life, love, and The Great Gatsby film. Gatsby is an honest effort but not up to John Huston’s The Dead, (comparing adaptations of short story masterpieces). Gatsby passes as a novel but it has the heart of a short story. The characters in a novel carry the meaning, whereas, in a short story, meaning carries the characters. It may not be a fair comparison, as Huston had more to work with. The Dead is surely one of the best short stories written in any language.

In Caffe Fiore

Remembering Tiapala, clean shaven, wearing the maroon robe of a Tibetan monk, a handsome man—free, awake, good humored. “Relax, O.K.?” he said when we met. How right he was. I was wound up with worry, lost again in ego land.

Dylan is singing “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man…” his truth fresh as ever after fifty years. Truth, no matter how painful, takes you to the place where the incomprehensible sings and love rights all wrongs.

Seattle