Letter 4

Suddenly I am in Washington. I left Austin, Texas after spending three weeks there. The drive across West Texas is horrible , regardless of what route you take. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone because of how desolate it is (I am being only slightly dramatic here). I was excited when I left Austin, but the loneliness of West Texas really took it out of me. I was leaving new-found friends in Austin. I was leaving a community that had opened its arms to me. I was leaving familiarity for more of the unknown. It was uncomfortable. I ended up driving through El Paso and Las Cruces to a small unincorporated community in southeast Arizona called Bowie. I arrived so late at night, I didn’t even get out of my car to set up camp, I just slept in my front seat out of slight fear of whatever could be in the dark Arizona desert and because I was truly tired. I had actually tried setting up camp at a spot in New Mexico earlier, but it did not look promising. As I left the spot and headed towards I-10 and Bowie, I was pulled over by Border Patrol. A less than welcoming experience, this was how my first day back on the road went.

Lucas in Weldon, CA

Not knowing where I am going to stay each night or what I am going to eat can be unnerving. I also don’t want to be too far into the wilderness that I cannot have cell signal and keep in contact with my family, yet I refuse to stay in an urban space given that my car is visibly full of stuff. Security, seclusion, and cell signal have been the key points to where I stay each night.

I did not see a single hitchhiker until I reached California. For some reason, I want to believe that they are all hitchhiking as part of a grand adventure rather than as their only means of automotive travel. I’m stuck in this position between wanting to give them a ride and knowing that I have been raised to never give a hitchhiker a ride. I have no basis for this judgement; I’ve never personally interacted with hitchhikers. Am I fearful of them? Or of their desperation? Alas, my lone passenger seat is full of gear as I continue by the upright thumb (I overpacked).

Making my way through San Francisco and Northern California, I end up in Eugene, Oregon. A college town, it is quite nice. However, there are obvious signs of homelessness. For the first time on this trip, I see a tent pitched on the sidewalk. I see many vans, buses, and small RVs with the windows covered in sheets parked on streets, possibly as others live out of their vehicles.

I visited Emerald Village in Eugene. Around 20 homes, all studio style with their own bath and kitchen. Between 160-300 square feet, each is a comfortable size and distinguishable with their own individual architecture. Vibrant, well kept, and dog-friendly, it is a nice little village put together on a small parcel of land. I spoke to a staff member of the overarching non-profit, SquareOne Villages. From my understanding, SquareOne is about setting up these villages, offering the initial nurturing, and then letting them be sustained by the residents. They are not intentional communities, in heavy contrast to Community First! Village in Austin. For SquareOne, this is a business, not a mission. Essentially, SquareOne Villages buys the land, builds the homes, and then has residents buy into a co-operative where they will eventually own the homes and manage the village themselves with limited intervention from SquareOne. SquareOne Villages is more of a developer than a community builder. Efforts are focused on providing reasonable housing that caters to the financial situation of their residents. Emerald Village is young – some homes are not yet complete – but I felt that the residents that were living there seemed to be happy and comfortable. With due time, I expect the community dynamics will become clearer. Intentional community or not, SquareOne Villages is providing affordable housing where the need is great.

While staying in Oregon, I encountered difficulties finding a place to stay each night. It turns out that Oregonians are active and enjoy camping. I’ve driven circles around this state from I-5 to the coast and back down highway 101. The experience of driving a combined 4 hours one evening as I hopped from one full site to the next full site to one that was empty was interesting. You begin to wonder if there will be a place for you to stay; you just want help and a spot to park your car for a night.

Somewhat unrelated – but this is a blog with my name attached and I feel a certain liberty to share my opinion – the Pacific Ocean is ridiculously cold. When I camped along the coast (because the number of campsites along the Oregon coast quadruples the number I could find along I-5) I was cold the entire time. I much rather have the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe I am just missing home. I don’t think I have ever spent this long on the west side of the Mississippi River. I am also constantly surprised by the longevity of the daylight. Sunrise at 5:30 am and dark after 9pm. Speaking of changes, the gas prices have been ridiculous since I left Texas. An Alabama native, I’m used to seeing gas prices well south of $3, oftentimes closer to $2. I’d be lucky to find a spot up here where I can get gas for less than $3, even if I pay in cash. And Oregon, why can I not pump my own gas???

I am definitely not anywhere I have been before. As I write, I am in Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. I am taking advantage of Starbucks and public libraries again, given their free Wi-Fi. I am officially halfway through this project. I will admit, the lonesome travel from Texas to the Northwest was slightly dismaying, but I am rejuvenated and excited to see what Portland and Seattle have to offer.

Expectedly uncomfortable.


Lucas is a Trinity freshman from Wetumpka, Alabama pursuing a Program II major consisting of cultural anthropology, statistical science, and mechanical engineering geared towards mixed-methods problem solving. On campus, he is a member of Air Force ROTC, marching band, basketball pep band, and Spire Fellows. He will be staying at and conducting miniature ethnographies of three homeless communities and six tiny-home homeless communities across the United States. Through interviews and observations, he will examine the successes and pitfalls of these communities while he tries to define what home truly is for American homeless communities.
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