When you decide to live in a van, you have to be prepared for a few harsh realities. For example, if you don’t have a toilet in your van (we don’t), you are going to have way too many conversations about when and where and how you’ll use the bathroom, and sometimes you’ll even have to resort to peeing in an empty laundry detergent bottle on the side of a highway while waiting for a tow truck. Another example is that your living space is SMALL. Even in the most creatively designed van, you are going to have bruises from smashing into the bed as you try to cook dinner, or you’ll have to sit still and not move while your partner gets dressed for the day, or your dog will spill her food for literally the tenth time in one week. Van life, folks. It’s not glamorous.
But let’s talk about one more harsh reality of living in a van - sleeping in a vehicle is not technically legal in many places, and frowned upon in many others. We try to be very careful about where we sleep to make sure we are allowed to be there and that we are not disturbing anyone, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes we are in the middle of a city and have to sleep parked on a busy street. Sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere and have to sleep in a park, or a boat ramp parking lot, or a Walmart.
No matter where we are sleeping, we always have a plan for “the knock”, an unexpected late night visit to the van by an unknown person. The plan is this: the first time you hear the knock, you do nothing except remain silent. The second time you hear the knock, you do nothing but remain silent. The third time you hear the knock, you get in the driver’s seat, apologize to the knocker, and leave. The reasons for waiting for that third knock are varied, but are mostly intended to help you figure out who is doing the knocking. It could be a drunk guy just leaning up against your vehicle, it could be a curious neighbor who you don’t reeeeally need to get out of bed for, or it could be someone who intends harm. Mostly, the harmless variety will go away after two knocks. You know who won’t go away after two knocks? The police.
On June 6th, 2019, we were traveling from Portland, Maine to Hartland, VT. We were driving on dark back roads that twisted and turned and hid a lot of critters that kept testing their luck in front of our van. So we decided we needed to call it a night. We weren’t anywhere close to somewhere we knew we could sleep - not even a Walmart - so we found a secluded little park with a small parking area. We fell asleep quickly, and had a blissful 2 hours of sleep.
We awoke to a heart-stopping pounding on our driver’s side window. We froze. Time for the plan. We could see light from a flashlight but no police lights. The second window cracking knock came, along with a deep voice yelling, “You need to come out!” We were silent. Even Nadia, our dog, sat rigid, staring at the curtains that were hiding us from view. I was scared. It could have been anyone and my half asleep brain was very paranoid. When the third knock came, along with, “Open up, police!” Michael and I were both still frozen. We were trying to communicate with each other telepathically - “I know we have a plan, but can’t we just pretend we’re not here and go back to sleep??”
Fortunately, someone in the car remembered the plan and abruptly took charge of the situation. Nadia the dog let out a hardy and extremely loud “AHRROO-RHOO-ROOOOO!!” which roughly translated means, “GET AWAY FROM MY HOME unless you are going to pet me in which case come right in, friend!” And with that, the jig was up. Michael got in the driver’s seat to speak with the police officer, who kindly told us we couldn’t sleep there but we could probably sleep at the park and ride down the road. We figured then we’d be the DOT’s problem, not his.
And that’s the story of our first (but not last) run in with the police. A story of a cop scaring the pants off us, and Nadia probably scaring the pants off the cop right back.
Currently watching: Nadia looking extremely sad in her cone
Currently listening to: The Knotty G’s “One Small Glove”
Current favorite things: caffeine
P.S. Come back soon for the next installment of “Nadia gets the cops called on her”!