Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tiny House On The Move

Early in the summer my landlady Marianna told me about her idea to move across the bay to a condo. A condo would be more manageable than the upkeep of a house and yard full of fruit trees. She wanted to rent out the house if the bank would give her another loan to buy the condo. That didn’t work out. I had wanted to buy her house myself. Not so much for the house which was just a two bedroom, but for the yard which was large and wonderfully wild. If I owned the house it would insure that I would always have a place to park the tiny house with an income to offset my costs. So was my reasoning.

I was grateful to Marianna for taking me in those first three years in such a prime location for it had given me time to figure out how to live in my house while allowing me to be close to clients and have the support of Catherine’s house nearby. She had also provided WiFi, water and power. 

The Search

While I was in Thailand she sold the house. She had gotten overwhelmed by the condition of it and wanted a quick out, selling the house for cash to investors. We would have the end of the year to move. She delivered the news with a plate of brownies I could not think of eating as I fought off waves of panic. She listened sympathetically to me vent. 

Just then my friend Karla called me to invite me on a museum date. When I told her of my news she suggested I contact her daughter who lived on a big property in Petaluma. Why not I thought and felt better. At least I had one offer. It was two and a half hours away, but the immediate Bay Area had not become any more tiny-house friendly in the three years I had been living in my tiny. In fact because there were now 300 RVs parked on the streets all over Mountain View and Palo Alto, residents had become even more resistant to any live aboard house on wheels. The long resistance to increased density in these suburbs had now bloomed into the most obscene housing crisis in the nation even as the cities allowed Google and Facebook to add hundreds of thousands of jobs. We would never catch up.

I drove to Petaluma and persuaded Catherine to consider it too, but she wasn’t ready and I couldn’t do it alone. I perused craigslist and drove across the bay to Castro Valley to see a backyard. The town was still legitimately in the Bay Area and the space offered was a big grassy back yard, but the commute traffic over the bridges was sure to be punishing and he wanted $1000 in rent plus utilities. Closer to home the offers were $1000 for ugly concrete yards. One offer was a dilapidated abandoned house renting the driveway for that amount. This so disgusted me I didn’t even contact the owner though the site was only a mile from Catherine’s. It was on the busy Edgewood road approach to 280 and didn’t even have a lockable gate. A week later the price dropped to $750 and a small newish RV trailer was soon parked there.

I put an add on craigslist myself which drew two offers one in Moss Beach and one in Half Moon Bay. The man in Moss Beach was put off by my composting toilet possibly offending his renters since I would be burying the contents or seasoning it in a bin on site depending on my method. The Half Moon Bay property was a commercial yard zoned for agricultural use supporting gardeners and nursery operations. My status would be as a caretaker assisting the man already there. I was quite excited about this possibility as it had an amazing open space behind it overlooking the ocean, but the owner got cold feet about allowing someone else to live there. The county watched commercial properties very closely and he was already housing people in RVs on a property hidden inland that was a commercial landfill. 

My Appearance On TV

Ironically during my state of near homelessness my blog was discovered by organizers of The Tiny Living Festival and I was asked to speak at their California venue as a bonafide tiny house dweller. Capitalizing on my expertise as a professional organizer my topic was ostensibly about how to downsize your stuff to fit into a tiny house. But I made it more a message about how tiny houses are an adjustment to the extravagance of the MacMansion era. A project worth doing to live a simpler life so we're not hogging so much energy and resources. 

In conjunction with my involvement with the festival I was also interviewed for an appearance on the 11 o'clock news for their program Project Home which addresses the housing crisis on a weekly basis. The show gave a brief tour of how I lived in the tiny house and allowed me to stealthily impart a message of eco living while asking my opinion about tiny houses as a solution for the homeless. No the tiny house is not a way to appease our guilt by putting societies most destitute in substandard housing (but by all means allow it and do it right in community with social services). It’s heaps better than nothing of course. People are going to live in this area whether there is housing or not. Many in their cars. I managed to impart an answer without proselytizing and was pleased with how well I came across. You can see for yourself on the programs website.

 A New Town To Consider

Another friend suggested I try to stay on the property I was on so I approached the real estate agent about having me be there to keep an eye out while the property was remodeled. It was not ideal, but I was at the end of my rope and posted my plight to Facebook showing myself gardening the median strip which had won me the approval of the neighborhood. I was staying positive by positioning myself as an asset to override the downer energy of the current housing crisis. I mean why should I be given space when so many were in need? It was a struggle to see myself as uniquely worthy and wanted. I needed to find my own Brigadoon I told my writing group.

My plight prompted two friends in a mountain town on the ocean side of the Santa Cruz mountains to post my add request to their internal neighborhood lists. The town was 35 minutes drive from everything, but it was beautiful and the drive did not involve bridge traffic or much traffic at all. I got two responses immediately. The first response was from a family 10 minutes further down the road in farm country. A bit too far and too remote, but I entertained the idea until the second offer which was right down the street from my friends’ house. The homeowner left such a nice message that I warmed to him immediately and went to meet him. 

Bob greeted me from his woodpile where he cut downed trees to heat his house. He was so chatty he made me feel at home right away. I took in his stylish slightly punk, silver grey haircut and tie died t-shirt. He needed help stacking wood now that his son was gone to college. And he had plenty of other unfinished projects too. His one and a half acre property was so big he had three different places where I could park. Across the street the resident lama and goat looked at us waiting for a treat of yard trimmings. I was warming to this rural town with its junked cars and casual live and let live combination of liberal mores and DIY rural sensibilities. It was horse country without the pretentiousness. 

I showed him my photo album of my tiny house and disclosed how my composting toilet worked. He did not seem put off by it since I wouldn’t be close enough to impact his garden. He asked $500 in rent with a work trade of 8 to 10 hours a month. I took a day to think about it because of the remote location and brought Catherine up to meet him. He showed us where the Mountain lion lived and where the vultures perched waiting for a carcass and the pile of rocks that was home to snakes. The mountain lion scared Catherine, but she could see that he was a generous and helpful man and I was going to say yes anyway. They still had the same ordinance as other towns that forbid people from living in RVs, but Bob had hosted people living in RVs before and he was willing to do the same for me on the condition that if there were any complaints I would move on. 

He had lived here for 28 years clearing away junk discarded on the land by the previous owner whose son was in construction. There was still construction junk on the land which he had made into sculptures using a bathtub and toilet to fashion into the body of a bi-plane poised to take off into the hills. There was a drag racer made from corrugated tin and discarded truck tires. He also had a couple of rusted tin dinosaurs he was known to arrange in seasonal tableaux. He made metalwork sculptures that adorned his house. This artistic bent endeared me to him. His day job was as a physical therapist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation where I had once worked myself and met four of my most pivotal friends. I counted the coincidence as a good sign.

I chose the upper pasture for my spot, paid my first and last and began work to level it and prepare it. I brought in a truck load of broken concrete I got free from a homeowner in Fremont who was busy jack hammering up the concrete that covered so much of his yard. I hired my handy friend Tim and it took us three work days and two truck loads of gravel plus more broken concrete to fashion my landing pad firmly enough so the gophers wouldn’t break through it.

Going Solar

During this time the first mandatory blackout by PG & E occurred as fire season got underway. This prompted me to think of launching into solar especially since Bob’s property would require 250 feet of extension cords. The longest cord I could get was 100ft. Even I didn’t like the idea of joining up so many cords. As it turned out there was a man on craigslist selling a complete solar set-up that was just about the right size for a tiny house probably used for a grow house. I had experimented with a cheap system myself, enough to be familiar with the components and his were all very high grade. He was offering a battery pack too. All for $1400. It was a risk to buy used equipment just as it was to buy the tiny house off craigslist, but I was being pulled by the serendipity of it all. Bob approved my idea and showed me the south facing hillside where I could put solar panels right below the parking pad. It couldn’t be more ready for solar.

I had just exactly the right amount of cash on hand to finalize this deal on a bank holiday weekend. I drove all the way up to Richmond to get it. Having measured it out I knew I could just fit the solar panels in my Prius. Mike, the seller told me that two years ago he had used the system very briefly for a grow project involving hydroponics, but then had to move closer to the job market. I had guessed as much. Marijuana having not turned out to be so profitable once complete legalization increased the competition. He showed me how the components worked and how to hook them up. 

He was a serious man also living tiny in a backyard shed finished with sheet rock and furnished as a bedroom. After the transaction was complete I mentioned that my father had been an engineer and had taught me some things. He said his father had been in Vietnam in communications and had taught him a lot about components.

“If you father was in Vietnam he must have spent some time in Thailand,” I said. 

“Yes,” he said, “I am half Thai.” 

“So am I,” I said in surprise. I was so bowled over by this serendipitous revelation I took this whole transaction as a blessing possibly arranged by my father himself from his heavenly perch. Mike smiled for the first time and gave me the traditional greeting of a wai with the words Sawadii Kup. I returned the greeting overcome by my good luck and drove away with my new solar system tickled at how I was going to subvert the power company with all I needed fitting into a Prius.

Several you-tube tutorials later I was confident I could put the system together. I just needed a battery box. I dragged an old metal bathtub up to the site. It had been Bob’s before he remodeled. It was just big enough to hold all four of the golf cart batteries. And the hole where the stopper control was installed was perfect for the extension cords and the cable wires from the panels to enter into my ad hoc battery shed. I put it all together and had power. Such a quantum leap in off-grid living yet so simple.

Moving Day

The day came to move. If my house was any larger I would have thought longer and harder about the actual moving of it. But I just strapped all the books down along with my desk and computer monitor, rented a truck and trusted that Tim who had moved it before would finesse it again. After working out all the details to get it pulled out, pull it out we did and safely towed it all the way to the coast of Half Moon Bay then south to approach my destination via a route less encumbered by low hanging branches and tight turns on narrow winding roads. All went well until we got to Bob’s property and the actual backing in of the house. 

After an agonizing two hour attempt with the truck wheels spinning dry gopher chewed dirt I wanted to run around in circles shouting “Mayday Mayday”. Instead I sent a text to my now down-the-street long time friend Martine asking her to bring me a snack. Her appearance walking up the street offered me emotional support along with sustenance. Bob showed up and started giving directions to no avail. The truck simply wasn’t up to it. So he fired up his 4 wheel drive which he had just to tow his tiny Airstream trailer. Meanwhile Tim pulled the tiny house out into the street again. By this time people were coming home from work at this busy intersection and some heavy equipment needed to get by so it was quite the scene before Bob was able to finally and expertly back the house onto its parking pad. I was so relieved even though inside it looked like an earthquake had hit.

Everything I had left to chance had slid off the counters onto the floor and one framed artwork had disassembled itself and broken the glass. Why hadn’t I been more diligent? I asked myself. Who knows? Sometimes you need things to fall apart completely just to show how near the edge your life has been teetering. The following two days I got the house level and stabilized with all four jacks firmly on the ground and set about organizing my outdoor space. 

The New Homestead

Ironically the house felt smaller in this big space, but once I had cooked a meal in it it was the same house it had always been only it wasn’t at all the same experience. It was so quiet and the light coming through the windows was different, sunnier and vacation like. The energy of this town was completely different from the traffic and freight train noise of my previous packed in neighborhood. It was a retreat place just as Bob said and most remained retreated in their houses. People who were drawn here had a sensibility different from the amenities-driven, competitive population in town. They were really nice Bob assured me. I was already seeing evidence of this. His local friends wanted to meet me the day of the move admiring the cleverness of the tiny house and welcoming me right away. 

My view took my eyes clear over the mountain ridge where I watched the sun set. This town was different too focusing more on the running of the town than any possible revenue. It had its own water from reservoirs up in the hills above. There were also lots of self organized town events involving food. I felt I had found a place that shared my values. 

After my first weekend sleeping in the tiny house in my new mountain home it felt dreamlike driving the beautiful road back into town. And once in the busy-ness of the town I felt different as if my identity had changed. I was now a country person. But there was another feeling too. I felt like I belonged somewhere, to a community and a geography that had embraced me and made me feel like family just for settling there. I felt blessed and lucky and hoped I’d be here awhile.

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At 8:11 PM, Blogger WarmSocks_Rossow said...

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MER ��


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