Today is A Big Day. Hot on the heels of the most astonishing, challenging, rewarding and downright bonkers year and a half of my life (and then hibernating in a puddle of exhaustion for a couple of weeks), I just turned 40.
A few days ago I celebrated the first birthday of this project (which is really more of a ‘new life’ than a project), and my beautiful bus #homeJames is 23. This, I have surmised, equals a collective age of 64. I therefore am announcing my retirement and tomorrow will start the drive off into the sunset to enjoy my remaining years in total relaxation.
Just kidding. I have WAY too many awesome things up my sleeve to do something as silly as retire quite yet :)
Some people express their mid-life crises by selling their houses, buying a motorbike or a sportscar, having affairs with people half their age or leaving their partners. I have none of those things. My mid-life crisis is quite clearly manifest through this thing that I’m now doing. Chucking in working for “the man” and focusing instead on making things again. Living in a bus. Sharing way too much of the minutiae of my life through stream of consciousness drivel on the internet. Yeah, I’ve changed a LOT in my 40 years. I am changing more each day. And I am A-O-K with that. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what has happened the last few years, what it all means and what to do about it next. But more on that later. Today I want to celebrate with a little story, one of the oh-so-very-many that drive this project and my new world (pun fully intended).
Sydney Parking Blues
Pretty much the biggest hurdle when living in a bus is where the hell you can park up each night. When people offer to host me I ask for the following:
- A legal, safe, secure, off-road parking spot that can fit a vehicle 6.5m long, 2m wide and 3m high.
- A toilet you can access round the clock (if it has a shower too that’s just gold).
- A nice view (optional, but welcomed).
- An electrical hookup and wifi access are essential if I’m working on something for you, and are always a valuable extra if they’re available.
Parking in Sydney sucks even if you just drive a little runabout. Parking a bus in this city is frankly impossible. While I was at ISEA2013 I was generously hosted by COFA which meant that I was in their loading dock. Safe and very kind of them but not so much with the nice view. After ISEA ended and I had to pack up my old apartment in Darlinghurst I stowed the bus with the wonderfully bonkers Lewis at Greenpeace‘s HQ out of town. I have never seen anyone play Tetris with cars, buses, vans and boats like that before – wow. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been free-parking by beaches on the south coast, excepting a couple of nights at a campsite so I could shower, recharge and wash clothes.
Last night I came back into Sydney and had the same old problem. Just before I left I took the bus in for her first service (with me). There’s a whole other blog post in that day; Daniel and David Rodriguez and the team at Prime Automotive Repairs in Marrickville are absolute LEGENDS! Essentially after spending a day with them they told me the secret way to get in to their forecourt and said if it was clear then I could park and hook up to their LX any time I needed. See, LEGENDS! So I set sail for there only to find the forecourt was full, so no go. I parked in sa side street and sat there a while just thinking it through. I don’t like parking on streets in case some nutter comes hurtling down the road and smashes into me while I’m sleeping. Damaging the bus would suck; being killed because I’m sleeping in a bus on a street would be approaching Darwin Awards level of dumb.
Besides, it was the eve of my 40th birthday – wouldn’t it be better to find somewhere beautiful to wake up?
So I went on a meander, and I found myself near the Lord Nelson micro-brewery in Miller’s Point (near The Rocks). Parking on-street was free between 10pm and 8am, so I set an alarm figuring I could buy myself two hours of extra naptime before working out where to go next.
This, ladies and gentleman, was my backdrop last night. I chose well.
And this is what that looks like in daylight.
The plan went pretty well. At 10am I woke again, checked the windscreen and hadn’t been ticketed. I don’t know what the area is like for inspectors but I figured I’d buy a bit of extra time (at $4.40ph) so got up and grabbed my change for the ticket machine. At 10.21am, before I’d left the bus this second time, I got ticketed. My gamble did not pay off and I now have a $101 fine. Oops.
Considering the sum total ‘accommodation’ costs I have had for the last fortnight are $31 for a campsite (plus fuel and general running costs on my old lady) I figured that’s actually not bad. You could easily pay far more for a crappy hotel with no view at all in this city. I also figured this did me a weird kind of favour – now I could stay as long as I wanted, I’d been fined anyway, right? So I settled in and made coffee and sat on my doorstep (my favourite place to be) enjoying the view and the stupendous amount of birthday love coming from the internet (see below) while my solar rig munched happily on the delicious sunshine.
Sitting on my doorstep (which I prefer to call a ‘busstep’) means people see me when they walk past. Sometimes there’s no connection between myself and these randomly passing lives. Other times I look up, smile, show an openness or even throw a ‘hi’ or relevant comment. Sometimes they interrupt what I’m doing – generally because they’re admiring #homeJames, which of course makes me extremely happy – to ask questions about why i’m here or details about the bus. It’s a fascinating existence, all this, and something I’ve been ruminating on a lot lately, obviously. Random conversations with strangers is really very much at the heart of reallybigroadtrip; it’s where the meaning lies and where I see much future work coming from. It’s both daunting and exhilarating, especially for an introvert.
Today several people passed by, some chatting, some just nodding and smiling, some busy with their own worlds. And then Bob rocked up. Bob lives on this street. He was with a lovely little dog called Brandy that he’s taking care of for a neighbour and he loves buses. He came to tell me I had a parking ticket. I said I knew, and that I’d decided to enjoy the fact which was why I had left it there and was hanging out in the sunshine. We chatted for a while about the bus, travel, Australia, all the usual topics. Somehow I mentioned Cockatoo Island and he said (like another guy I randomly met is Geroa recently) that he’d worked there on the ships. The project I’m doing for Underbelly Arts Festival (the reason I’m back in Sydney) is about Ghost Stories, so I asked if he knew any. “Not there” he said “but there’s loads of ghosts around here”. I love a good ghost story so I asked for more info and we got chatting about the history of the location and about how developers are trying to evict the local community and tear down all the beautiful old buildings in order to build shitty new apartment blocks for rich businessmen. Dreadful.
Then he said “I saw you here last night when I was walking the dog. Shame I didn’t meet you then, I have a guest resident’s pass I could have given you. Free parking all day then. You could have used it”. He proceeded to give me his name, phone number and address and said anytime I want to I can just borrow his pass. I just picked it up, had another nice chat and as I left he said “have a very happy birthday, nice to meet you”.
Seriously. Human generosity astonishes me.
Here’s some more photos of #homeJames photos in this beautiful location which I can now proudly call our Sydney base! If you so desire you can gorge yourself on more of our buspr0n adventures here. Enjoy.
Just before I put away the computer and go celebrate this coming-of-age with my fabulous friend and next Nomad in Resident Edwin van Ouwerkerk Moria (yeah, he’s Dutch!) I wanna say a huge heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent love and greetings today. I may well be a single and sometimes lonely old spinster, but I have the best support network of family, friends, and colleagues that a person could ask for.
Waking up to so many messages across so many platforms today has thrown me right back to July 11th 2012 when my crowdfunding campaign went viral. It’s now 3.30pm and I still haven’t got through replying to all the text and voice love-showers. Love the bones of all of you x
I’m a Very Lucky Lady, for a 64 year old…