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Nomad Break Downs on the Road
My van had developed a strange clunking noise in the front end and I noticed my front tires were wearing badly, so I took it into a shop I trust in Cottonwood, AZ, strongly suspecting front end work was coming. Sure enough, it needed a lot of work. It had to be done so the next day I brought it in bright and early. Well, I spent part of the day sitting in the waiting room and part of it running around town and to the park with a friend, so that went pretty well.
When I first started living as a nomad on the road, my greatest fear was that my van would break down and I would be homeless. After all, the van wasn’t just transportation to take me around town it was my home. If you live in a house and your car breaks down you can take the bus, walk, ask friends for rides or even take a cab. But if your car is also your home it’s much worse; where do you sleep while it’s in the shop?
Just this week that happened to me and I’d like to tell you about it.
This wasn’t the first day I’ve spent sitting in a waiting room at an auto shop, when you’re a nomad living on the road, it’s inevitable. It’s not the end of the world, you just do it. You’re usually in town with internet and a TV so I just take my laptop, chargers and MIFI Jetpack in with me and try to entertain myself as best I can. I’ve never been turned down letting my dog sit with me so we go for walks through the day.
At the end of the day the owner came to me with bad news, a part that they had been promised wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow and they couldn’t push the van out of the shop because it was torn apart. Of course that was my worst fears come to life! Where would I sleep? My dog Cody was with me and where would he go?
The first thing I said was, “Well, I always carry a tent with me just for this reason, if you will drive me out to my camp I’ll stay in the tent.” Then something totally unexpected happened!!! I mean so unexpected it was shocking to me!! He offered to pay to put me up in the motel that was right next door!
He might as well have said, “Why don’t I fly you to moon and you can camp there” that’s just how shocked I was! This wasn’t his fault! The parts house told him the part was in stock and then they told him later it wasn’t. But he said, no, he kept an account with the motel and whenever his clients were stuck he put them up in the motel and he was glad to do it for me as well. I reminded him I had my dog with me and he said no problem, they took dogs (it did cost him an extra $20).
I don’t like staying in motels so I protested but the more I thought about it I didn’t like the idea of a night in the tent without electricity, heat, any food or way to cook or any of my things. I could do it, but it would be a much better night in the motel so I decided to treat myself and agreed to let him get me a room. I offered to pay for half but he said no, it was just a cost of business, so I made the decision that after it was done I would ask him if I could tip his crew $40 so he could buy them pizza and beer. I did that and he got such a kick out of it and I’m sure his crew will always remember me!
And I hope all of you will remember him as well!! Anytime you are in Northern Arizona (Flagstaff, Prescott, Sedona or Cottonwood) and you need work on your vehicle, take it to Cottonwood Tire and Auto in Cottonwood. You can trust him to do right by you, but more than that, we should all reward good deeds,
It was a very nice Best Western and Cody and I both loved our night in it!! It was a great excuse to splurge on ourselves so I went to the Panda Express close by for dinner and to a convenience store for dog food. They didn’t have any canned dog food but they did have canned cat food! It turns out that Cody loves cat food!!! He is a fussy eater, but there was no doubt about that cat food, he devoured it! Later I realized this is the first night Cody has ever slept inside the four walls of a building since I got him 18 months ago! He seemed to be okay with it!
That should be the end of the story but they next day there was a power outage and they couldn’t get it done again!! But, at least this time they got it all closed up and started it and parked it in the parking lot so I could sleep in it. It was an unpleasant night with all the road noise but I was still very glad to be back in the van. I love living in the van and even if it’s in a noisy part of town I’d rather be in it than anywhere else!
And you know what, as I write this out, I’ve got a big ole grin on my face!! Even when it seems like it isn’t good, or even out-and-out bad–it really is all okay!
The next day I went in and thanked the boss for his extreme generosity; that kind of a good heart just makes the world a better place and I gave him the tip for his crew. Doing good or bad is contagious, and if we will all just work hard to spread the good and ignore the bad, the world can be be a much better place!!!
So, let me give you some hard-earned advice about how to handle unexpected break-downs on the road:
- Always have an emergency fund!! It’s inevitable you will break down or have some other unexpected thing come up. It’s essential you have the funds on hand to get you through that crisis! I didn’t like having to spend all that money, but I had it so it wasn’t a problem. I strongly recommend a minimum of $3000 which should be enough to make emergency repairs, pay for a night or two in a motel and cab fare. Heck, $3000 will buy a decent older van so you can move into it and scrap the old one!
- Mental preparation is key! A break down is easily handled because your home is with you where-ever you are. You’ll just work out each problem, one at a time, and in the end it will be no big deal–and in fact become a memory you treasure! The key to that mental preparation is planning ahead and taking all these steps before hand so you can have confidence in your future.
- Always have essential supplies (food, water, fuel, bad weather gear) on hand to last at least a week or two and preferably a month or two. If your trapped by weather or broke down on the side of the road, having supplies on hand will get your through it. If a repair takes all your money, you’ll still have enough to live and to eat until more money comes in. An easy way to build up your essential supplies is when something goes on sale, buy an extra or two and put it in the pantry.
- I carry a tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag for these reasons: 1) If the van is in the shop I can stay in an RV park in a tent site for the least amount of money. 2) It can also hold my site when I’m boondocking and leave it to run into town. 3) A very few times you’ll be required to set up a tent to camp in a spot–I set mine up, then sleep in the van.
- Strongly consider carrying a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle as alternative transportation. If you have a bike with you when you break down, you can ride for help or use it to get around town. As a great bonus, it will also save you money on gas all the time and help you get exercise and be healthier. An electric bike or motorized bike will make it much more likely that you actually ride it.
- Consider carrying Roadside Assistance like AAA or a plan through your insurance company. There are lots of ins and outs of these: 1) how many tows a year, 2) how far will they take you, 2) does it work nationwide, 3) can they tow your van or a trailer, 4) can they handle an RV, 5) will they go down a dirt road in a National Forest? Do thorough research before you choose one.
- Be faithful to maintain your vehicle! The better care you take care of it, the less likely you are to have breakdowns happen. This could have been a catastrophic failure on the road, instead it happened in town because I saw signs of a future problem and took care of it.
- Most important of all, do good, and good will happen to you! Be good, and good will be all around you! Yes, shit still happens and van parts still wear out; but in the midst of the normal shit of life will be a hidden gem that makes your heart sing.
Today, be the hidden gem that makes someone else’s heart sing!