Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Article Aftermath Part II

[UPDATE: It looks like I will be on Air America's The Ron Reagan Show this Friday, Jan. 8, around 7 p.m. ET. I'm not sure if you can listen to his show online, but here's his website.]

It’s been about a month since I published the article in Salon. While requests from the media have waned, there are several outlets still interested in my experiment.

Yesterday, my hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News, published a front page article about my odyssey across the continent and vandwelling at Duke. It was the “most read” story for the day except for “Drunken Bills fan passes out, leaving three children crying.” (And who wouldn’t read a story with a title like that?)

I couldn’t have been more pleased with The Buffalo News story (besides the misleading title and unflattering picture). It would have been easy to color me as a reckless, over-idealistic freak—the typical McCandless portrait—but reporter Steve Watson did a fine and fair job.

On a side and somewhat self-conscious note, I’m not too pleased with the picture. Supposedly of the 25 pictures the photographer took, the best was the one where my left eye looks like one of those bulbous Chameleon eyeballs that can rotate independent of the other.

Not only that, but they included the now characteristic picture of me without a shirt on, in mid-chew, eating in the van, which all other publications are wont to use (including Yahoo in Taiwan). But I digress…

I did radio interviews with CBS Dallas and another in Davenport, Iowa whose jockeys sporadically aired clips of Chris Farley’s SNL character Matt Foley beaming about living in a van down by the river. While I took it all in with good humor, I think it’s only a matter of time before the Farley references become irksome.

On Friday I might be on The Ron Reagan Show. If you care to listen, I’ll update this entry with information on how to tune in.

Several TV shows including Inside Edition and Fox and Friends wanted to do segments on my experiment. I struggle to find a reason to participate. What good can fame bring me? It will in no way make me happier. I will still have the same friends, family, and ideals afterward.

Inside Edition offered money to follow me around campus for a few days. For a minute, I did think that it might be nice to get a little tuition money out of the bargain, but after watching an episode of gossip-laden garbage that eclipsed even my lowest expectations, I promptly turned down their offer and disgust for my culture was renewed.

Producers of The Rachel Ray Show, however, are discussing whether they want to do a “van renovation” segment with me. The very last thing I want to do is “sell out,” so I’m wary of all offers. But the consumer in me really wouldn’t mind a set of solar panels and a periscope.

Lastly, I’ve established a rapport with a literary agent who thinks I can turn my tale into a book. This is something that I plan on following through with, but with some reluctance.

As a reader of classics, I’m constantly reminded of my own deficiencies as a writer, so I worry that I’m not ready to take on such an enterprise. Nor am I in the least bit convinced that I can make a whole book about living in a van. Regardless, I think I can make it happen.

All in all, I must say that I’m dealing with all the “fame” remarkably well. It hasn’t phased me in the slightest. I’ve been amused and I’ve experienced blips of excitement, but not enough to disrupt my daily schedule or infect me with illusions of grandeur. Really, I just look forward to going back to the van and having another stimulating semester of school.


Anonymous said...

I guess its time to see how famous you are on your campus. By the way, I read your article yesterday and was amused by how you "declined to elaborate" on how living in a van hurts your dating life. From what I can tell after a year of following your blog, you are always straight forward about not having another half. Have things changed? We are all excited to know.

Ken said...

Anon-- I decline to elaborate. ;)

Anonymous said...


Try not to get irked by the Farley references. Those were funny skits... funny skits based on a stereotype that you don't really fit into. The inference with Matt Foley seems to be that he lives in a van due to a number of less than desirable personality traits. You live in a van by choice.

Reading your blog has opened my eyes to something new-- the idea of voluntarily choosing to live in a van. Initially I thought this would be relatively uncommon, but a quick google search shows that there are many people living in vans, or similar setups. Interestingly those who blog about it are generally good writers and are voluntarily living in a van-- many have jobs, and some even prefer van living over living a traditional residence. I think I might even try it at some point!

I think your concerns about inside edition and Rachel Ray are probably well founded, though the book thing sounds like it might be worth it- you'll learn a ton about the book writing process, if nothing else.

I was filmed for a medical reality show once (one of those learning channel shows). I was followed around by a camera crew every day for 2-3 months. It was a total disaster. I'd never do it again. They followed 25 docs, only 16 were featured prominently on the show. In the end, I was ecstatic to be in the background, rather than a key figure. The show was on for a full season, and I was on for perhaps a total of 10minutes. Some friends were featured regularly, and most were really glad when it was over.


Romana S said...

Howdy Ken.
Do you need the services of a fellow van dwelling wrier for proof reading, bouncing ideas off etc? I write science fiction for a hobby, and well I once wrote a web site about living and cars and vans. :)
I like reading and writing and have pretty good spelling and grammar skills. Plus think of the novelty of having a Intersex VanDweller proof read your work. I can imagine the masses now: "You have an inter-what read your work? An Intersex person? What's that? I'll just Google that. What, you mean people can be born part male and part female? Whoa, what a spin out! That's even cooler than just living in a van! All Hail Ken." :)
Okay, so I have a bit of a warped sense of humor. It's damned hot here in Oz in my bus. 42 c!
Email me from my web site if you'd like help with the proof reading, idea bouncing and editing.
Many kind regards,
Romana S.

Anonymous said...


I really enjoy reading your blog and have for some time. Glenn from LA also has a great blog about his experience in vandwelling you might want to check out.


Anonymous said...

did you ever decide what you were going to send the person who won the contest?

Ken said...

Tera--thanks for the kind words. I'll check out Glenn's blog.

Anon-- winners get an 8x10 photo of me and the van in front of Duke Chapel--a picture I hope to take this weekend. (just got back on campus.)

Surgeon-- thank for the very thoughtful response. Join the yahoo group "vandwellers"; there's tons of interesting people and plenty of good advice if you ever consider going forward with it! I plan on aggressively pursuing the book deal--I think I'll be weaving in my alaska/canoeing/hitchhiking adventures to make it more a travel book and less a political harangue. Still in the brainstorming process though. And yes, those SNL skits were pretty good, I must say.

Karen DeCoster said...

Ken -- as one who has written often on the topic of consumer consumption mania, debt-o-ramas, and the screwed-up American habit of living beyond one's means to collect trinkets and "things," I loved this story. Your insights on people and their perpetual state of denial are absolutely correct. As to you wanting to become "a writer," I think you have already achieved that goal. You write very well.

This is my website.

Anonymous said...


First, your story is a great story. I give you huge kudos for avoiding debt. I remember stories from old guys about hitch hiking to school and only having one set of clothes for the semester. While that was the norm back then, you are the anti-consumer college student exception for today.

Try to avoid fame. I am a frontman in a regional rock and roll band and can't even go to a local bar with my girlfriend without someone wanting to talk to me or God forbid, pick a fight. Flattering as it may be, it gets old. Then, as soon as you graduate and start your career, you will be called a sellout and all kinds of other nonsense. Ignore it. The "do nothings" of life enjoy living vicariously. They think they know you. They don't.

Best of luck!

Ken said...

Karen-- that's some website you have there. Thanks for all the kind words. I take pride in my writing, but realize I have a long ways to go before I'm satisfied. Anyways, thanks.

Frontman-- I'll consider your advice. I've been doing radio interviews for the past week and I've realized that they cause far more anxiety than anything else. I get absolutely no pleasure from them, making me wonder why I do them in the first place. And as a quiet, solitary individual, I'd probably hate to experience what you have to deal with in public--but I can rest assured that a writer/vandweller will never have the notoriety of a rock star, luckily.

John A said...

Tell me the Rachel Ray business is a joke. "Well Ken, since you like 'Walden' so much we've decided to give you your very own Walden Pond right here in your van! Check out this beautiful water feature!"

Also, don't sell yourself short as a writer. I consistently marvel at not just your adventures, but how well-written they tend to be. I'm in the midst of writing my thesis for my MA in English and I can deal with literary theory and analysis as well as shit out the occasional poem, but I definitely don't have the storytelling knack that you have. I have faith that you could write a great book.

Faraz Hussain said...

As an avid reader of non-fiction and author, I can say your writing skills are already among the top. Try and do an audio book as that is much easier to "digest".

Ken said...

John and Faraz--your compliments are greatly appreciated. I am moving forward on the book. Just struggling to see the narrative arc. And yes, in fear of "selling out" (and not really "needing" a renovation) I stopped answering calls from Rachel Ray people.

Akasha said...

Fame may not bring you much personally, but I imagine it'd bring the rest of humanity great insight. I think you're the type of person that should be famous :)

Your writing is totally good enough for a book. Very few people read classics, but everyone can enjoy an adventurous tale told in accessible language.

And it won't just be a book about you living in a van. I see your vandwelling as just a part of your highly developed and reflective self. I see most vandwellers like that, but you articulate your vision with great clarity, passion, humor, and more than anything, honesty. I've found your blog to be some of the most entertaining information I've come across. Way beyond any movie or tv show, and on par with my most treasured books. You're like a revolutionary saint, dude.

Ken said...

Akasha--How flattering... I'm still working on that darn book, but I have strong doubts that it'll get picked up. Your words are certainly encouraging. Oh, and I just took a peak at your blog... Refreshingly honest! I'm not sure if it was your intention, but I found myself giggling at your unashamed morosity. (Is that a word? If not, it should be). Best of luck.