It finally happened this morning, the dreaded knock on the window.

This is what vandwellers try to avoid at all costs: a police officer waking you up to drill you with questions in your most vulnerable, foggy state of mind: what are you doing here, do you live in this vehicle, do you know it’s illegal, and so on.

I got lucky this time

Officer Nunez was pretty nice, actually.

After ascertaining that I am a harmless old lady with a cute puppy wriggling to be petted through the window, he relaxed and told me he was just checking to make sure I wasn’t dead, drunk — or cooking meth!

It was good that I am white, that I have a clean, nearly new van, that I could tell him I’ve lived in the neighborhood twenty years, that I’ll be in San Diego for several weeks for obedience training for said puppy, and that I will be leaving after that.

He wrote all this down but he didn’t give me a citation even though he could have. I’m sure my presence in the area will be noted from now on, and he pointed out that I could be cited in the future. I don’t want that, so I guess I’ll have to find a new spot to sleep.

It’s called ‘stealth camping,’ this method of living on city streets and trying not to be noticed. The standard advice from oldtimers is this:

  • Have sev.en or eight overnight spots and rotate them, so your presence isn’t obvious.
  • Only go to your chosen spot late at night when you are ready to sleep. Then go to sleep!
  • Don’t stay up on your computer, generating light that can leak out to be seen from the outside.
  • Crack a couple of windows so they don’t fog up while you’re sleeping.
  • Wake up early and leave right away.

I break these rules all the time and was getting overconfident.

I often stay in the same spot overnight because it feels safe there. The windows were fogged up because I kept them closed to prevent a certain puppy from barking at every little noise outside. And this morning, instead of getting up and out early, I slept in because I was exhausted from frequent puppy interactions during the night.

That’s when Officer Nunez showed up.

Now I don’t feel so confident

Even though he was nice, he wrote down all my information and now I am in some database as living on the streets in my nice, newish van.

That feels very uncomfortable to me. It makes me feel homeless, which I am most definitely not, but that’s how people like Nunez must see me.

Suddenly, I remember why I always get depressed when I stay in a city for very long.

But I need to stay here in San Diego until early June because of the puppy training class. After that, I’m gone (to Big Bear for the summer, yay!)

Stealth camping sucks.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Pia

    I think you’re doing the world a favour by stretching the parameters of normal, in this case “living arrangements”. Why should anybody care how you live if you don’t make them do the same (which they are so eager to do to you). Live in a van, paint your bedroom pink, wear purple knickers. It shouldn’t be important.

    (just send me that adorable puppy if you get sick of her 😉

    • LaVonne Ellis

      Haha, thanks Pia! I get sick of this adorable puppy at least twice a day but then I get over it 😉

  • Shawna

    We always get over the trouble our fur babies cause, don’t we?
    I am not living in my van (yet) but that ‘knock on the door’ scares the living daylights outta me. I am thinking I better get some kind of pat answer memorized because I sure can’t think on my feet when woken from a deep sleep. Oh wait, that probably won’t matter because if we were awakened in the middle of the night The Chiweenie Brothers would certainly cause enough of a ruckus to garner a ticket. Hmmmmmm…….
    Good advice on rotating those stealth spots.

    • LaVonne Ellis

      Your best bet, Shawna, is to avoid stealth camping altogether if you don’t need to be in a city for work or some other reason. Boondocking in the ‘boonies is much more pleasant!

  • Al Christensen

    Do you have a boondocking spot in Big Bear?

    • LaVonne Ellis

      Linda May has done some scouting for boondocking spots for me, Al. She says there are plenty. I hope so!

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