How to live in a Winnebago in the richest neighborhoods of DC
Austin Yoder has lived for several months out of his RV in the nation’s capital. Here’s his advice on how to go stealth mode.
The Cellphone Trick
You can’t just be a guy sitting there in the front seat.
A stranger, some interloper in this fancy, rich neighborhood with picket fences and glistening fully loaded BMWs with heated seats and steering wheels.
If you’re just sitting there in the front seat that’s suspicious.
The trick is to use your cellphone. An innocent prop that’s easily visible to passersby on the streets outside of the vehicle. A cellphone with a 3.7 inch AMOLED display and 24-bit color, angled to reflect conspicuously through the driver’s window, is a tool to transform you from threat to non-threat.
Author's vehicle "Rocinante," a 1999 FD Winnebago Rialta with 2.8L V6 engine, in downtown DC
With a cellphone in your hand, you’re just some guy checking a map, email, or text message. Whatever. Just checking something before you go home for the night.
Then, the overweight gossiping yoga housewives, out for an evening group stroll, they keep walking. The doctor lawyer guy walking his dog, and who would rather be nursing himself to sleep with a bottle of Springbank Single Malt: he doesn’t even turn his head. That’s when you’re totally 100% completely safe.
That’s when you climb into the back of your vehicle.
The mommies, daddies, and kiddies are all finished with dinner. They have already talked about work and school and how nothing much happened today, and who will take the kiddies to soccer practice. They’ve had story time and bath time. They’ve zoned out in front of their 60’’ 1080p HD TVs, and have no reason to come back out on the streets tonight.
Of course, this whole cellphone trick probably isn’t necessary, anyway. People are so consumed by their mortgages and car payments and yoga class and redoing the guest bedroom that they wouldn’t likely notice you anyway.
That’s one thing I’ve really taken to heart after living in the richest neighborhoods of Washington DC in an RV: everyone is more entrenched in their bubble than you’d ever imagine.
Buses, commercial vehicles, sightseeing vehicles and motor vehicles longer than twenty-two feet (22 ft.) shall not be issued residential permit parking stickers.
– District of Columbia Municipal Regulations Title 18 Vehicle and Traffic: 2413.6
Anyways. The cellphone thing is just a precaution.
Better safe than sorry.
As soon as they walk around that corner with the well trimmed hedges and manicured front lawn, you can put your cellphone away.
Now. Climb into the back of your vehicle. Surf the internet with your mobile WiFi hot spot. Cook red lentils. Make love with your partner. Read a book. Park beneath a streetlight and you can read without even turning on your own lights.
Curl up in your double bed with the 3’’ six zone white foam mattress topper. The crickets’ sublunary croon will lullaby you into a deep slumber soon enough. Gaze on the stars or swooshing tree branches as they ricket and flail through your skylight as you drift, drift, drift, nod off.
Park by a copse of trees or a neighborhood park. Crack a window. You’ll have a solid eight hours of fresh air while you sleep. You will awaken invigorated. Like you just returned from a light autumnal hike.
There isn’t anyone else coming out onto the street at this point. At this point, you are free to fall asleep without anyone ever knowing that you’re living in an RV in their fancy, rich neighborhood.
Sleeping right next to their house.
“No, Sir. According to the police, there is no law that prohibits sleeping in a vehicle in the District of Columbia.”
– DC DMV Rep on the Telephone
How to pick the best parking spot on a public street
The trick is to park about one and a half car lengths away from the other cars. Not too close. Not too far. Too far and people will wonder why there’s a big white van parked all alone in that cozy quiet spot beneath the street lamp on the street their kiddies play on.
One and a half car lengths says that some other car, some BMW Z4 or Audi TT Quatro Sport, was parked near you but drove away. That’s not so suspicious.
Distanced, yet unapologetic.
A standard parking space is 19’ long by 9’ wide.
Once I parked by a park across the street from this lady’s house, on a narrow road, for a full week without moving. She wore pearls and big ugly black plastic sunglasses that had attitude. I know this, because when she and I finally made eye contact one day as I drove past, when she finally saw me, she gave me the wickedest evil eye I’ve ever seen. Those pearls were a leash for her wickedness. They were the only thing keeping the devil himself from jumping out at me from behind those ugly ass plastic framed sunglasses.
If you can, try to park on a wide street where one side is a row of houses and the other side is a row of trees, a park, a house undergoing construction where nobody lives right now. A mixed residential and commercial zone is great.
Maybe that van shaped thing belongs to the florist or deli…
Mixed residential and commercial is great, but there’s something even better.
Leave your RV parked anywhere you want during the day. At night, move it in front of a school or a church. Sometimes, elementary schools are located plop straight in the middle of these fancy, rich neighborhoods. The after-hours streets outside an elementary school are desolate.
Nobody is even there.
Except for you.
Except for me.
Their houses are nearby, but their attention is not. When all of the kiddies go home in the afternoon to have juice and a snack.
Gross Vehicle Dry Weight: 7,000 lbs
– Winnebago Rialta Service Manual
When all of the churchgoers have hallelujahed and eaten of the body of Christ together, the streets are yours.
Those are the best places for us to park.
How to wake up without arousing suspicion
The trick is to look clean. A two button jacket and a collared shirt. If you wake up before 6:30am, nobody else will be on the streets. The streets still belong to you, and you could walk out of the vehicle naked without anybody noticing.
But if you look clean and professional, smoothed and starched into the neat pleats of everyone else’s reality, you can leave whenever you want.
So I put on my two button jacket and dress shoes, but I’ll never wear a tie.
Do a quick, discreet check out of your side window. Open the door slowly and look at your cellphone like a prop, or be reading a book or a newspaper. Nobody will notice you.
They will assume that you’ve slept in a house somewhere nearby the night before. That you are an early riser who was just getting something out of the back of this big white camper that is parked next to their house.
That’s a little weird, isn’t it?
You’ll blend right in, and they’ll never know. They’ll never notice, or even pay attention.
But we’ll know. You, and me.
And we’ll always know.