Saturday, August 10, 2002
Steamboat Springs If the American Dream is indeed to buy a home and fix it up to sell later for the purchase of a larger home again and again until you die in the biggest home you can afford, then I am on my way.
I bought my first home in March for $400. Granted there was no land attached and it is roughly 6 square feet, but it is mine.
On May 1, I moved all my belongings two backpacks, a trumpet and a fishing rod into said home.
Known to many as the Luv Shack, my pea green 1974 Chevy Luv was equipped with a bed, shelves and other storage, a two-burner stove and a gravity-fed sink.
I parked in the same place every night. Was never, thankfully, harassed by the police and learned a lot about the concept of home.
To me, home was spread around a seven-block radius. I have a membership at the Steamboat Springs Health and Rec, where I showered. I usually parked on River Road for dinner.
It is important in tight quarters not to let the curtains burn or asphyxiate yourself with propane fumes, so the doors were wide open as I stir-fried my meals and ate them on the tailgate of my truck.
Park benches are fair game as living room couches for hours of reading and writing letters. The Laundromat meant the same thing to me as it did to everyone else.
People always referred to me as "homeless," but I never felt that way.
I had a home, however humble.
My dad came to visit a few weeks ago and we were talking about vices. I love a pint now and again, and I said so.
"Well, at least it doesn't affect your life" he said.
"You're right, Dad. I live in my truck down by the river."
Living in a vehicle has a lot of "down and out" connotations. It's something I would normally hide from my parents, but I wasn't ashamed. Steamboat has created a culture where it's almost a given that many people will throw their bed on the streets once the weather permits.
For the most part, Steamboat's "homeless" are just like me.
They are children of upper-middle-class homes. Well educated, despite all appearances. They have dress shoes, cell phones and e-mail.
And they all have jobs.
I met many of them. We shared secrets about where to park, shower and quick recipes that put our special limitations into consideration.
They were living in vans and truck campers for one reason: Rent in Steamboat is so expensive that most young people end up working two jobs. Some still don't break even.
Lifting the burden of rent takes the insult out of the Steamboat existence. Ironically, living in the Luv raised my quality of life.
But despite the obvious advantages of not paying rent, I missed the privacy and the space that a legal home provides.
Last month I decided to start paying rent again.
I found a place where I can live by myself and walk almost everywhere I need to go. I have great views and for all of that, I pay more rent than I've ever paid.
My landlord raised the rent the minute the last tenants moved. He made no repairs to the place, but he doesn't have to. He made it clear that if I didn't move in, someone else would. They would pay whatever he asked, just for the privilege of living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
He's right. I love it here and poverty, as an artist friend once told me, doesn't mean a thing to someone who's happy.
Autumn Phillips began work for the Pilot & Today in June. She covers Hayden and South Routt.