Category: practicalities

in the shop

Can I just say how much I love my van? It’s diesel, and four wheel drive, with the steering wheel on the wrong side. It eats through snow and has a super tight turning radius; I like to make sudden U-turns anywhere, just cause I can. Also it looks a bit like a hamster, with kind of a silly smile. It’s old enough to drink in the states, but has less than 150k on it. I love it. (sigh)

One problem though, being a used import, it takes some unusual parts. The place I bought it in Vancouver keeps some of the more obvious ones on hand, but that’s 7000km away, and certain parts might have to come all the way from Japan. So on sunday morning, when I was driving down the road and the van just slowed, and slowed, and slowed until it was just moving at a sad little roll slower than walking speed… I was shitting my pants.

I was only a block from Canadian Tire, but rolling it there took an agonizing 15 minutes. Their service dept is closed on Sunday, so I slept in their parking lot that night. The next day I learned that CT doesn’t work on diesels. Called around, found a mechanic who worked on diesels, and who sounded curious about working on a weird import. Called a tow truck, and holy smokes, they sent the biggest mother#@%er I’ve ever seen! Got a piggy back ride to Fred at Master Auto. He was awesome, I told him it was my home and he put a rush on the job, and had it ready for me by the end of the day… except when I took it for a spin it still didn’t run right, so that night I slept my second night at a repair shop. The next day they did some tweaking, and now… it seems to be fine. I’ve got my baby back!


Easy winter

Yeah, school’s been keeping me away from the blog, but there’s another reason I haven’t written anything about sleeping in the cold yet… I was waiting for a night that felt like a real accomplishment, a real Canadian winter night spent in a van. But global warming seems to be working in my favour: -16 is about the coldest it got for me. There were two nights that it got down to -19, but one was the night I was locked out (see last entry), and the other I was up all night at school finishing a project.

All in all I was pretty comfortable this winter, and the key to it all was my beautiful, sweet, dear hot water bottle. Instead of trying to heat up the bed with my body, I’d boil water at school before I left, and toss it in bed about foot level. By the time I got home it’d be nice and toasty (in one spot at least). Many, many thanks to Shirley for that idea.

I only had one vandwelling adventure, when my usual spot at Horseshoe Island got buried in snow and I had to find a new one that wasn’t in the way of the snow plows. I backed the car onto a quiet little corner off the road near the yacht club, and got stuck halfway with two feet of compacted snow under the van. After about 45 minutes of digging it all out and tramping down the snow behind, I was able to back all the way in. I used that spot for the next two or three weeks, it was lovely. Sometimes it even had internet!

This photo was last week… I always leave the front windows open a crack for fresh air, and on that night there was a fine dusty snow getting blown all around… by morning it was winter wonderland in the front seat!

It can still be pretty chilly (yesterday morning when I woke up it was -7 inside the van), but most nights are fine, and last night marked the lifting of the ban on overnight street parking, so in my world, winter is officially over. Wahoo!!

On the couch

Yes, I did stop to wonder if it was really such a good idea to go through a car wash in freezing weather… but the van was totally caked in salt, and I figured if it was a bad idea then car washes probably wouldn’t be open. Wrong! After the car wash I went to school, worked through the evening and returned to the van around midnight, to find the locks and handles and presumably the seal around every door frozen shut. I did manage to heat up one of the locks enough to get the key in and even turn it, but that didn’t open the doors. Arghhhh!!

Architecture school saved the day; there are a couple of couches in a cozy little workspace on the top floor where I slept very comfortably, and by noon today, even though it was still -16 out, the sun had warmed up one of the doors enough for me to get in and start up the car. First stop: Canadian Tire for some lock de-icer.

Well now I feel dumb. I woke up at 5am to the sound of the largest snowplow in the world coming to a grinding halt in front of my van. See, where I’m from when there’s a big snowfall the city’s plows are totally overwhelmed, and if the snow doesn’t immediately melt then it takes a week just to get the streets clear… it never even occurred to me that here they would ever get around to plowing my little boat launch!

The driver was actually really nice, he told me I didn’t have to move since his machine was too big to manoeuvre in the little lot anyway. But the law here is really about obstructing snow removal, so if they plow my parking lot then it follows that the parking ban applies there. My waterfront property isn’t so perfect after all…

Update Sep 24: I found another spot that I used on nights when the plows were out, but found I was in their way there too, so in the end I went back to my perfect spot and just stopped worrying about it. (shrug) What can you do?

Beach House

Beautiful big dump of snow today, yayyyyy!!! But this means I have to shovel my driveway. No really, I have a driveway now. With the overnight parking ban there are only a few places I can go at night, but one of those places is so utterly perfect that I’ve decided to make it my permanent winter home. It’s a little boat launch with a few parking spots right on the water, private and quiet, and as far as I can tell it’s totally legal to park there overnight. I share it with a squadron of ducks, and every so often I hear them squawking at each other. They sound exactly like Daffy Duck, it cracks me up. Anyway my one concern about this place is that there’s a bit of a slope to the entrance that could be tough to navigate when it’s icy, so the other day I bought a snow shovel and some de-icer. So I can take care of the driveway leading to my new waterfront property, ba ha!

Winter plan

People tell me it gets cold here. Wikipedia says there are two months of the year where the average low is -10, which doesn’t sound so bad. But that’s the average: the spikes can get as low as… some people say -20, some people say -30. I think I could handle -20, but I don’t know about -30. But I’m expecting that I will have some sort of graduated introduction to the cold. I’m planning to buy a thermometer so that I know at any given time what the temperature is inside the van, how that compares to the temperature outside the van, and how I can expect to feel should it get colder.

Last year my coldest night in Vancouver was -6. I had 4 blankets, and I slept in complete peace and comfort. Obviously -30 would be a lot different. But the extra resources I can pile on are a huge furry blanket, a down sleeping bag, and thermal underwear… plus full-on sweats, if necessary. With enough insulation around my body I might not be able to move, but I think I’ll be pretty warm. Oh yeah, and I’ve got my catalytic heater, and my yogi mind trick. Also I’m thinking about where the van loses the most heat, and how I could mitigate that. And I’m registering with, so that for those weeks that are extra extra cold, if I’m uncomfortable in the van I have indoor options. Finally, certain aspects of my new school program are going to help me out: one is that by all accounts I’ll be completely overwhelmed by the workload so I won’t have any free time to be hanging out in the van, it’ll just be a place to sleep; another is that the studio space is available to me 24 hours a day, so in truly dire last-minute circumstances, I can always uh… go back to school?

At this point it’s almost become a personal challenge, but don’t worry folks; I won’t keep it up if it’s not working. I really don’t want to turn into a popsicle!

Halifax parking

Last post notwithstanding, here’s the parking situation:

  • I’ve mentioned the weekly street cleaning at night,
  • I’ve mentioned the 2 hour parking restriction during the day (on all side streets anywhere near downtown, which is where my school is),
  • Now I’ve learned there’s an overnight street parking ban in winter.

I can see why this is necessary; Halifax is an old city, the streets are narrow and in winter the snow plows really can’t be dodging the parked cars. For most Haligonians it’s not a problem, because all houses have some sort of parking on their lots: every house has a driveway at the side, and apartment buildings all have a parking lot out back or underneath. For those who own cars but don’t have enough parking at their homes, the options are either to rent a parking space (going rate seems to be $90/month), or play a continuous game of “dodge the ticket weasels”.

Those are my options too but I also have a third, which is to drive out to Bayer’s Lake, where reportedly just past all the box stores is a fabled wilderness where you can do what you like and no one will notice. I’ll give it a try one night but I doubt I’d do it regularly. It involves a lot of driving, and a lot of morning rush hour, which is total madness every day as a few hundred thousand extra people try to cram themselves into this teeny little peninsula.

I may eventually have to rent some parking. Potentially it could solve all of my problems: the time spent looking for a home every night, time spent commuting, and even the cold of winter, since I may be able to find heated parking indoors. One big problem though: who the hell wants to sleep in a parking garage? Blecch, I think I want to try braving the cold and the ticket weasels first.


I was in the grocery just picking the last of my things when the power went out and they started shooing people out of the store. Lucky me, somehow the till and the visa machine still worked. Blown through nearly empty streets to this spot where there were no big trees that could fall on the car, I pointed the nose into the wind, and just curled up with a book, cozy and warm, with plenty of food. Hurricane my ass, it was just a storm. Didn’t even properly clean the dead bugs off the front of the van. I went for a walk once the rain stopped, the wind still high. Branches down everywhere, a few trees as well, and the city was out of power for the day. Somewhat anticlimactic, but not as disappointing as Y2K.

Remember that Spirit of the West song? I can’t get it out of my head, partly because I’ve spent much of the last three days using the North Memorial Library, which is on Gottingen… yes, the same one in the song. I’m here for the internet access, but also for the blessed aircon; the cooling system at the downtown branch (which is right across the street from the school of architecture) went kaput. This is very much a community library, located in Halifax’s poorest district, which of course you’ll know from the song, if you’re old enough. I like it here.

But I think the song is staying in my head because I’m also feeling more keenly homeless than I ever have before. Forced by the heat to sleep outside, I did find a perfect spot last night (really lovely in fact), but then I ran afoul of the street cleaners. Certain streets get cleaned on various nights of the week, with signs posted that I didn’t read clearly enough, obviously. Parking’s tight and very complex in this town, making my home feel more precarious than it used to: I’ve never before had so much trouble finding a place to put my home. So now I have a $25 ticket for putting it in the wrong spot, on a night I didn’t even sleep in it!

Most of all though, the song is in my head because of the roadblocks I keep running into with funding for school. Last time I used student loans for university, they calculated what you needed for the year and gave it to you, simple. Foolish me, that’s what I expected again! I won’t get into the details, but I guess I’m being reminded, in a very personal way, of how our system needs… ah, I mean wants poor people to stay right where they are. Not that I truly fit that category; I’m privileged in many, many ways. But right now I’m very money poor and the experience is making me alternately angry and depressed. Again I should rephrase: it’s not the experience of being poor that’s a problem, in fact I’m quite pleased with my improved budgeting skills. It’s the ‘are you crazy’ look people give me when I act like higher education is my right, and everyone’s.

Anyway, I got this far, and I swear I’m going all the way. I’ll show the bastards!

Home #108

Somewhere in Ontario… near Upsala I think?

You know how fond I am of rest stops. In Ontario, they don’t have ’em. Well they do kind of… they call them picnic areas, and they appear quite frequently on the highways. Sometimes they’re really lovely, sometimes they’re kind of drab. They usually have little bathrooms, but not always. But the salient point for me is that they’re closed at night, and signs explicitly say that anyone parked there overnight will be towed. Bastards!

However in this part of the province there are many old unused logging roads that plunge from the highway straight into the woods. I picked the wrong one in the sense that the road became too thick to drive on it while I was still in sight of the highway, but once I was there I didn’t feel like moving.

I need to rig some kind of bug screen on my windows: on a hot night having to choose between fresh air or freedom from bloodsucking motherfucking killer bugs just isn’t fair!