Wow, that was intense. This blog used to just be for my family and friends to check in and make sure I hadn't died in some horrific truck-related accident, but since I made the highly questionable call to share my story publicly, it's been a whole different story all together. It's been a crazy few days, and I have a ton of thoughts on it. This is going to be my longest post by far, and I apologize in advance if it reads like one long rambling truck-man manifesto. I'm going to do my best to sort my thoughts out, so strap in and here we go.
I'm not going to link to any of them, but there were well over 6,000,000 (yes, six million) views on articles about my living situation in the first day and a half. I've seen various forms of my story published on 25+ media outlets, and several live news broadcasts. This blog received 2,000,000 requests the first day alone, enough to bring it down for a minute or two right after the first article hit. I've been contacted by no less than 10 people internally at my company, 20 people externally, and 500 people between comments on this blog and emails. A few people tracked me down and friended me on social media (impressive, I'm not even mad). By any definition, my story went viral, for better or for worse.
I've read emails from many people who've subjected themselves to living situations similar to mine, sometimes under less cheery circumstances. Even though I'm perfectly contented with my (self-inflicted) living situation, it was encouraging to read from other people who've worked through the same physical and cognitive barriers. I've even heard from people who are currently living in nearly identical situations. I've never had a network of fellow truck/van-dwellers to talk to (this guy has since left), so if nothing else it's nice to know that other people are just as crazy as I am. The tone of peoples' correspondences to me was overwhelmingly positive, and that was definitely refreshing. I've read through tons of wonderful advice about potential "Home Improvement" tasks, like fixing that damned hole in the front of the box, ways I can improve my dresser, or how I could build a better bike rack. I've had people offer to decorate the inside and outside of the truck, and even offer me places to stay around the world when I start travelling. The kindness and generosity of the world is certainly not lost on me, and I appreciate all of it greatly.
I have dozens of reasons why I do what I do, but the easiest one to latch onto is that the Bay Area is expensive to live in, and I normally leave it at that. It turns out that's a fantastically touchy subject, but it was nice to see some very well-reasoned arguments on a bevy of relevant topics. I read some great discussions: whether they be about what the "American Dream" means today, or even solutions for San Francisco to start rectifying its housing problem. Though I have to admit, it's incredibly weird watching thousands of complete strangers argue about the various facets of your life. Glad that's almost over with.
In The Black
We're living in Marty McFly's future, and (according to my nearly arbitrary formula) I've broke even! I've successfully avoided paying rent for long enough to justify purchasing the truck, and it's all sunshine and gravy from here. I promised a break-even party, and I'm still working out the details, but that'll definitely be this weekend for anyone who wants to join in the festivities. Thank you to every one who congratulated me on this pretty exciting (if I do say so myself) milestone.
There were a lot of great things that came out of the past few days, but unfortunately the Internet isn't a vast wonderland of sunshine and rainbows. While everyone I've talked to in real-life has been, at the very least, understanding of what I'm doing, the anonymous, snarled tendrils of the Web aren't quite as forgiving. Maybe I can chock up the local niceness to the general liberalness and frivolousness that pervades the Bay Area, who knows? In any case, I certainly had a lot of material to think about and reflect on over the course of the day.
For better or for worse, the Internet is a bastion of free speech and gives people the power of anonymity. Having spent years taking cursory glances at YouTube comments, I should have known better than to delve into the cesspool otherwise known as the comments section on articles. But alas, I let curiosity get the best of me and took a look. I'm the last person who'd be offended by comments on the Internet, and I've mentioned before that if you're going to do something as crazy and fringe as live in a truck, you need to be comfortable with yourself. Being comfortable means knowing how to take a joke, and I found most of the jokes about me pretty funny. Some of them were tragically misinformed or otherwise unknowledgeable though, and here's my feeble attempt to set the record straight:
- The Stuffed Animals. I'm not actually sure how this came up in the first place, but the dregs of the Internet really latched onto the fact that I own a few stuffed animals, and that fact persisted through pretty much every article I read. And I'll admit, as a grown man living in a truck, stuffed animals are about the only decoration that could possibly make my living situation look any creepier. Plus, if you presented a younger version of me with that information, he'd probably find the stuffed animals just as weird. The reality is that they were given to me by a friend, and they're one of the few possessions I've attached sentiment to. Everything else in the truck has a well-defined utility and purpose, the stuffed animals are just reminders that I've lived other lives outside of my current situation. I don't talk to them or pretend they're alive, I just keep them to remember where I've been. So yeah, they're undoubtedly weird, but they're also one of the signs that I'm still human.
- I'm a barbarian. I don't pee in the woods. I've never peed in the woods, and I have no intention of peeing in the woods. I use the facilities on campus, like a reasonable, civilized human being. There are no buckets or other waste capture/disposal utilities in the truck. I repeat: While in the truck, I perform no bodily function that creates waste. Okay fine, if you're being particularly pedantic, I do breathe, which releases CO2 and I guess could be considered waste, but that's it. I'm not Bear Grylls, nor do I have any intention of emulating his lifestyle.
- Non-existent social/romantic life. I'm working on being less judgmental myself, so I'm not going to give people flak for their opinions of me. And trust me, I'm the first one to joke about my romantic prospects. But since everyone seemed really worked up about it: you can take solace in knowing that I have a great network of friends, and people are far more accepting of the truck life than I would have previously believed. People seemed really eager to paint me as some sort of goblin who works 16 hours a day and is afraid of sunlight and women, which I probably should have expected.
Just Plain Selfish
I can't remember what was going through my head when I agreed to talk about this publicly, but it's pretty much the exact opposite of everything I've been advocating in my lifestyle. You know, things like subtlety, for example. The whole reason I got a truck instead of an RV was to maintain a low profile, well it turns out that works much better if you don't broadcast pictures of your truck on Good Morning America (my bad). The worst part though is that, as I've mentioned, there are plenty of other people in the area doing similar things, and I very well may have just ruined it for everyone by drawing so much attention to it. I sincerely hope that I haven't caused problems for any other truck people. If I have, I'm sorry, it was selfish of me to make such a spectacle of myself.
What makes me interesting?
If you aren't a fan of hearing about the grim realities of the world, skip this section.
Over 600,000 people in the United States are homeless, and we're the most affluent nation on the planet. By that metric, there's nothing particularly interesting about my flavor of homelessness. It's that I'm choosing to do so, or that I'm doing it while working at a high-profile tech company. And somehow that makes it more interesting, or fun even? Real homelessness is a systemic issue that doesn't get exposure because it's a decidedly uncomfortable topic. People barely scraping by working minimum wage jobs and living out of their cars isn't a news story, or particularly glamorous. My story makes a great, Buzzfeed-style headline. But when it comes down to it, my life is perfectly fine. I've said many times before that in my worst case scenario, I simply get an apartment like a normal human being. But where are the stories for the people who don't have that luxury? Let's be incredibly clear about this: If I was struggling to get by and living out of a car, this wouldn't be news; it'd just be someone's harsh reality. It's especially tragic because I encouraged it, generating tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue for these media outlets.* If this is something that resonates with you, donate to an organization that actually does something about it, like HandUp or Homeless Voice.
I saw a lot of misinformation and questions and criticisms in the comments on various sites. For all of the questions people asked me directly on this site, I'll address them all in a mega-Q&A soon, so sit tight. But I'm going to address some of the bigger stuff here.
Brandon, where's your money?
I saw a bunch of people crunched the numbers and determined that I should have been able to save more money than I actually am and pay down my loans faster. However, they weren't able to take into account that I was maxing out my 401k and HSA to lower my tax burden and utilize the generous corporate matching program available to me. Those investments have higher returns than the fairly low interest rate on my federal loans. Fear not, I'm working on a post that'll detail my finances in thorough, painstaking detail. But in the meantime, rest assured that I don't have a raging drug addiction that's siphoning up my hard-earned funds.
Brandon, why is your truck so ugly?
As is pretty obvious from the truck shots circulating the Internet: my home is not a pretty place. In fact, I'd venture as far as saying it's downright unattractive. It's fairly old, there's graffiti and old sticker residue on the outside, etc. I do my best to keep it away from the public eye, but I thought it was funny that people were expecting something nicer. Like in what universe is someone living in a truck likely to have high-class design sensibilities? I'm an engineer, and it definitely shows in my choice of decor. It's spartan and utilitarian, and that's the way I like it. Like I've said before, I'm not using it to impress house guests, I'm using it to sleep and store my clothes, nothing more.
The Savings Clock
Brandon, in this post, you say your break-even point isn't until October 21st, 2015, but it looks like you broke even yesterday, October 19th. What gives?
This one was my bad. It turns out Wolfram Alpha uses a more exact algorithm for calculating the duration between two dates, whereas I was making the rough estimate/assumption that each month had 30 days. The ~1% difference in the two algorithms means that I "broke-even" a day before my estimate. As many people have mentioned to me, I'm not counting the value of the truck for if/when I decide to sell it. They're right, but the calculator is an estimate of how much money I've currently saved, to include the potential future earnings from selling the truck wouldn't be honest or reflective of what I'm trying to show.
I'm still reading through (and responding to) all of the emails sent to the address I created yesterday (brandon@TheNameOfThisWebsite.com). Give me another day or two, as you can imagine it's been a bit hectic. A couple people requested a mailing list or some way to subscribe. I currently have an RSS feed, though whether or not it works is a different matter entirely (I've never used it). I'll set some time aside this weekend to see if I can set up a mailing list or something equally useful.
All in all, I'm glad my 15 minutes of fame are (hopefully) winding down. Thank you to everyone who reached out and shared past experiences or gave me tips on how to improve the truck, I read and appreciated all of it, and I'll continue to respond to emails and comments directed my way. Like I said, it's been one hell of a day, and I'm hoping to retire to my truck now for a nice, quiet night.
* Just to be clear, I made zero dollars off the media attention. In fact, it costs me money to run this blog, more so with the sudden traffic spikes.