Sunday, June 21, 2009

Disposable Clothing

One of the main things people use a "home" for is storage and maintenance of clothing. Most people have an inventory of clothes for various purposes: for warm weather, cold weather, sports, formal affairs, beach, etc. They also have a hamper of used clothes waiting to be washed and often their own washer and dryer to run them through. The whole thing gets very complicated and expensive.

If you don't have a stable residence, you've got to cut that process down drastically. You can't haul around the huge inventory of clean and soiled clothes, only a modest amount of each.

One solution: disposable clothing! Imagine if you could afford to buy clothes, use them once or twice, then throw them away. There would be no storage problems at either end. It sounds wasteful, but if you add up the costs of storing and washing a fixed wardrobe, it might not be unreasonable.

Thanks to Chinese slave labor, prices for basic clothes in the U.S. are low enough that single-use is an option. At the Evil Mega Mart™, I can get socks for 75 cents a pair (in packs of 10) and underwear for a little more than a dollar each in bulk. Colored T-shirts can be found at Walgreens™ for 5 for $10. Shirts and pants at EMM™ are as little as $10—and far less if you shop thrift stores and garage sales. Voilá — a disposable wardrobe!

I have conducted scientific longevity studies on my clothing by wearing it until it turns rank. Socks have the shortest lifespan, lasting only a day before needing a wash. I can get two days out of underwear and perhaps three from a shirt. Pants can be usually be worn for several weeks before becoming visibly or aromatically distressed. At the prices given above, that's less than $5 a day for disposable clothing.

I could rent a storage unit in every city I commonly visit just to keep my clothes in but it would end up costing far more than just buying clothes as I need them. (EMM is my storage unit!)

In practice, when I have laundry facilities at my disposal, I will use them, but knowing that I can throw away my clothes is very useful. It allows me to travel very light. I can arrive in a new city with nothing, and as long as an EMM (or similar European hypermarket) is present, I can reconstruct a wardrobe very quickly. I can also ditch my inventory at a moment's notice, since my investment in it is minimal.

For footwear, I have been buying the same product for years: Silver Series™ athletic shoes from EMM. They are your basic sneaker with Velcro™ straps instead of laces. The price used to be $9 a pair but has recently rocketed to $11. I buy a new pair whenever I want to look respectable and usually wear them for a month. Of course, you can also buy shoes for $50 to $100 a pair, but you aren't getting 5 or 10 times the use out of them, since expensive shoes get soiled just as fast as cheap ones.

In my Silver Series, I not afraid to wade through swamps or sand, because it was probably time to get new ones anyway. If I had $100 shoes, I wouldn't dare soil them, which can be a crimp on all sorts of adventures.

If you think that $11 shoes can't do the job of $100 ones, I can report that I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, requiring a marathon 22 hour death march, in my standard-issue Silver Series. The hike was no piece of cake, but my feet were fine. It was the guys in the expensive hiking boots who got the blisters, because they were hiking in shoes their feet weren't used to.

(This says something important about the investments people make in their possessions. When people spend $100 on hiking boots, they feel compelled to wear them, even if their feet don't like it. Everyone says you should wear hiking boots to climb mountains (not the least, the manufacturers and vendors of hiking boots and all the hiking "experts" who need to demonstrate their expertise), but your feet may have different ideas. Just spending a lot of money on something doesn't necessarily make it the best, and the huge investment is inevitably going to change your behavior. You are now "owned" by those $100 hiking boots, instead of you owning them.)

Since I don't have multiple sets of clothing for different purposes, I make do with what I have. When my $10 jeans reach their expiration date, I take a pair of scissors to them, and they become shorts! This also serves as my bathing suit. (I imagine, on the female side, that a bathing suit top can also serve as a bra, but not the other way around.) If a shirt gets a little rank, I might wash it in the sink with whatever soap I have available, thus extending its life by a couple of days. I am always coming up with new tricks.

Outerwear, like jackets and sweaters, tends to be more expensive and less disposable. It's also very bulky to haul around. Whenever possible, I try to avoid this inconvenience by STAYING AWAY FROM COLD PLACES. Slush and snow? Not my cup-o-tea!

When I have to go to chilly places, I tend to dress in layers. A couple of cheap sweatshirts or sweaters are easier to manage than a single heavy overcoat. I tend to get these items at thrift shops for disposable prices, so if I find I don't need them, I simply jettison them.

What about dress-up occasions where I have to make a good impression? Well, one of the reasons I got into this lifestyle is that I hate dealing with formal social circumstances. Any situation where appearance is critical is not one I care to be involved in. Interview on national TV? They'll have to take me as I am!

But to make a reasonably good impression in social circumstances, I might buy a brand new pair of $10 pants and $11 sneakers especially for the occasion. And I usually carry some kind of colorful Hawaiian shirt with me that I think looks nice. I you happen to die, don't expect me to show up at your funeral in anything fancier than that.

Since I shower at a health club or hostel almost every day, I think I can reasonably pass for a normal person. My clothes and their condition doesn't set me apart from anyone else, which is all I expect of them. I'm certainly no fashion plate and have no interest being one. I just want to pass through life easily, without my clothing or its maintenance getting in the way.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Athens, Greece.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Road: Phoenix to Richmond

As a deliberately homeless dude, one of the things I do to make ends meet is drive other people's cars across the country. This is one thing I can do right now that most people can't. Since I am a laid off airline employee who can still fly for free, it costs me nothing to get to where the car is and to get away once the drive is done. This gives me the ability to undercut the major car transport companies.

I also keep the operation afloat by staying in motels only rarely — typically only at the beginning or end of each gig. I let my clients fill the car with whatever they want, so I do not always have the back seat to sleep in. Instead, I usually camp, and for this purpose, I bring a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress and air pump with me.

The desert in the summer is the best. No matter how hot it gets during the day, the night is always comfortable, and there are rarely any insects or rain to deal with. I just put down my air mattress (usually on a tarp for ground cover), pump it up and I'm home! In the desert, there is certainly plenty of open land to do it on, and if the land happens to be public, camping is 100% legal. (If the land isn't public and you are there only at night, nobody is likely to notice you or care anyway.)

Above is my campsite nears Lordsburg, New Mexico, three nights ago. It may not be pretty to look at, but in terms of a comfortable sleeping experience, it was a dream! In spite of the desert's reputation as a harsh place, there is really nothing out here to hurt you, and the weather rarely interferes.

Things change rapidly, however, when you come east. As soon as I passed from Texas into Arkansas, I moved from desert to tropical rainforest. That's the best description for the whole eastern half of the country from May through September. Here you usually have vicious mosquitoes and frequent rain. A tent is essential, and camping gets a whole lot more complicated.

Last night I camped off I-40 near Brinkley, Arkansas. As usual, I selected my campsite at dusk, while I could still see, and I thought I found a good one. It was a concrete pad from a demolished building at a remote rural exit. There was virtually no chance of anyone stumbling upon me. It took me a little longer than usual to set up the tent due to some faulty equipment, but soon I was safely installed inside, on my air mattress, protected from bugs.

The only trouble was, while I was erecting the tent I got about a dozen mosquito bites, and the itching drove me crazy! I took my magic pills - enteric-coated aspirin - but they helped only slightly, and it took me at least three hours to get to sleep. Then, not long after I began to sleep well, thunder and lightning woke me and told me a storm was imminent. My little tent really wasn't adequate for a heavy thunderstorm, and I didn't want to deal with wet equipment in the morning, so I broke camp and continued my drive at about 3am.

This camping experience was pretty much a lost cause. I pride myself in being able to sleep anywhere, and I ended up sleeping sitting upright in the drivers seat of the car. This sounds uncomfortable, but it actually worked out well, better than the tent. In practical terms, it was like sleeping on a transatlantic flight - but in a First Class seat, not coach. Wearing my sleep mask, I slept soundly for five hours, making up for my sleep deficit.

The only problem now is that I have lost about 3-4 hours of driving time (and another hour writing this entry). Today, I have to put on a lot of miles, with few stops, to try to meet my schedule.

This is all to say that the homeless life isn't entirely idyllic. especially on the humid East. You are often at the mercy of the elements and nature. Most people I know couldn't tolerate the rough time I had last night. They would be complaining, Big Time: "Why can't we go to a motel?"

To me, the $40+ just isn't worth it. You got to find an affordable motel first, then check in, unpack, etc. Once last night's tenting experience failed, there wasn't much that a motel could do for me except delay me even further. Most of the time, camping goes fine, and if you play the odds, it's still a good deal. There are occasional bad nights, but the good nights make up for them.

It's not just the expense of the motel that's the issue, but also being able to sleep wherever you are, while getting in and out of sleep mode quickly. Generally speaking, it is a lot easier to find a camping spot than to find a cheap motel, and once you fall asleep, your body can't really tell the difference.

It's just that a humid environment can be difficult: rain, mosquitoes, wet clothes that won't dry, sticky nights that don't get any cooler than day. I'll take the desert any day!