Cutting Out the Grid (Sort Of)

Today I leave my grandpa and uncle for about a month. I have very much enjoyed living with them, as much as I have been trying to escape the Northeast. It has been nice to nurture familial relationships, and, to some degree, even to talk politics with them. I have found that I enjoy tending to my grandpa, as grumpy as he can be. I think about those who do underpaid care-taking work even though they cannot afford to, and the newly chosen campaign that Resource Generation is developing. More on that in a later piece.

I have been sleeping in #VeggieMonster for some time now, after executive producing its transformation via Kurt’s Trailer Center — lovely, knowledgeable folk (photos below). People think I am a weirdo for sleeping in a driveway when there is a multi-bedroom house next door, but it is good practice. If the first time I slept in #VeggieMonster was in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, I am sure my place on the learning curve would be much further back. I imagine most people do not know how to fold/unfold a loaded bike rack from inside a pickup truck. I do. #MicDrop.

Video: Click it.

I tell people that the living situation would make a great sitcom. My grandfather is a retired Sicilian-Catholic civil engineer born to Sicilian immigrants, has watched Fox News all day every day for at least two decades, and believes that Sicilians and Catholics are the two most oppressed social groups today. He likes Marco Rubio & and may be in love with Carly Fiorina. My uncle is Italian-American, works with his hands, has a silly/light-teasing sense of humor, and talks in vowels (Ay! Ee! Oh!). He is Republican, but promises to vote Bernie if he gets the nomination. I am an Italian/Irish coddled hippy, vegan liberal, on-line grad student, who struggles to put windshield wiper fluid into the truck he owns and sleeps in. I am a big fan of Bernie, and a Green Party member.

I have taken to putting some of the family conversations in the family Facebook group. My aunts are afraid of me now. They still think I carry recording devices with me. (Just the brain — All that over-education has to pay off somehow). A teaser for the next entry:

Dear Fox: Come at me.

As I write this, I am at the first rest area in Maine, on my way to my (other) uncle’s wedding. Last night was the first time I slept in the truck while parked at some random place. It went super well. Nothing like going to sleep whenever it is I happen to feel tired, instead of driving another XY miles to find a motel or something. Not to mention waking up to the birds in the surrounding forest on either side of the road. Turns out I parked next to the entrance to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. I may have relieved myself next to their borderline. Pro-tip: Squatting is a great way to wake up in the morning. I learned that one when dogsledding through Minnesota. (Note: I no longer condone dogsledding.)

Much Gratitude to Kurt’s Trailers

While I prep for traveling, my other uncle, the one who lives and is getting married in Maine, sends me The Vanual, an online guide to living out of a cargo van. This stuff is awesome. There are some slight differences between a pickup truck and a cargo van lifestyle, of course (biggest one I see so far: privacy), but plenty of helpful information here. The Vanual puts me onto the trail of quality, consumer-geared solar panels and batteries, and teaches me the sacred, other use of a laundry bottle. (I have not needed to use it yet.) I have since been charging my phone and portable wifi with solar energy.

In the meantime, I still need used cooking oil. I have been mostly taking short drives, and therefore not scouting restaurants with urgency. But with Summer travels approaching, I need some grease. I call around, get mostly No’s, but some tentative leads. Then, my aunt tells me her neighbor, Joe Sgroi, started a used cooking oil refinery business. How this did not come up before, I am not sure. Regardless, she connects us, and I pay him a visit. Even though he sold his oil refinery business and now works on many things as Sgroi Innovations, he still works with oil, and has many tips on collection. He graciously gives me a full tank, just in time for my trip upstate for a Resource Generation conference.

Alas, because I am still somewhere on that learning curve, I learn that in the course of fiddling with the veggie oil switches, I broke the cardinal rule some time ago: I left the filter pump on for too long, and it overheated. I have since ordered a new one. It arrives next week, and I intend to change the thing on my own. I will let you know how that goes…

I also test out the solar stove for the first time. I start with something easy: veggie dogs. Technically they do not need to be cooked, really, just heated. I load them up and aim the stove toward the sun. Then I walk away, looking for cooler bags and car fuses. I manage to change a broken fuse, as well as learn a lot about which fuses do which tasks, before I realize I am hungry. Solar stove: success.

My cousin tells me this is innuendo.

I now have solar power, solar cooking, a decent cooler bag, a car that runs off used cooking oil, and a solar shower. (It is a bag of water that heats the water with sunlight. It needs to hang from a tree — or a roof rack!) So far as I can tell, the only thing I am needing is a better way to store water than five different Klean Kanteens. Or constant access to a hose. I will be practicing the lifestyle all this Summer, with formal weddings and activist-education youth camps. After Summer, the Great American Activist Road Trip begins…