Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A new parking lot problem

My parking lot issue is resolved. I had a meeting with a Duke lawyer today.

Going into the meeting, I only wanted two things: 1.) I didn’t want to have to pay for a new parking permit, and 2) I wanted to have some say in the whereabouts of my new lot.

The lawyer told me up front that Duke would be happy to trade permits with me. In fact, he said since my new parking permit is cheaper, I’ll actually get a $100 refund, which is an unexpected surprise—and a timely surprise at that since I’m getting awfully low on cash.

I had a couple ideal parking lots in mind, but he had one in mind too. We walked over to it, I stood there for a moment, did a 360 taking in my surroundings, and then said, “This is fine.”

I don’t want to publicly advertise exactly where I am for the same reason I never disclosed my whereabouts at the Mill Lot. And that’s because—while I have a blog and have, in many regards, taken my experiment public—I wish to have as much privacy as I reasonably can.

Anyway, the lot seems more than sufficient to me. It’s closer to the hub of campus, it’s on a bus route, and it looks as if I’ll have a reasonable amount of privacy. I was also happy to see that it is surrounded by some interesting vegetation.

They also requested I sign a contract, which essentially said that I cannot sue them if something were to happen to me, that I cannot sleep in any other lot, and that I’d no longer live in my van at Duke after May 2011 (when I graduate). You can read it here by clicking the picture below.

I was reluctant to sign a contract, but upon reading it, I couldn’t find anything I objected to.

I certainly understand why large institutions are afraid of lawsuits. And of course if I were to get assaulted in my van, catch frostbit, or be subject to some “act of God”—which all makes vandwelling sound badass—I’d never think about suing Duke or anybody. I knew what risks I was taking, and I was more than willing to deal with whatever ugly issues I might confront on my own.

The only line in that contract that made me think twice was their request that I not live in the van after May 2011. But I didn’t think this was too big a deal since I plan on moving out of Durham after I graduate, and I highly, highly doubt I’ll be going for my PhD here or anywhere for a long, long while, if ever. In fact, this may very well be my last year of formalized education.

I give Duke credit for their classy handling of the situation. Everyone was respectful, and they’ve obviously taken pains to make me feel comfortable. I have nothing but positive things to say about everyone involved.

BUT….. And here’s the big news…. The lawyer told me that Duke, as soon as tonight, is going to rewrite the campus parking regulations, hereby prohibiting all students from living in their vehicles (excepting me of course).

While this new rule has no effect on me, this is something I am opposed to for a thousand reasons. He told me if I wanted to have any say in the matter then I must submit something by tonight. While I’m more than aware that a plea from me will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture, and that they will do whatever it is they want to do, I see it necessaryto at least oppose such a law in the best way I can. So I better get writing!


Nick said...

Yikes. This whole saga is quite compelling!

It's great that they cooperated with you.
It's unfortunate that they are re-writing the rules.

Good for you for putting up a stand Ken, even if it's ultimately futile (let's hope not). Good example of "be the change you want to see in the world".

-Heidi said...

I do think that the civil way in which all parties (you and the university) handled the matter was a step in the right direction in changing perceptions of those living mobile and/or frugal lifestyles. However, this new action the university is taking has me baffled! Wouldn't the very amicable exchange they had with you promote the idea of embracing (or at least showing tolerance) toward a different culture?

I am glad for your sake that you'll be able to complete your intended education without further harassment.

kenavo said...

Good place to move!
Complaining the new parkingrules; waste of time and words I suppose
Lucky you!

David said...

Congratulations, Ken. I seriously doubt that a better outcome could have been hoped for. As for the new regulation, it was inevitable after they made this accommodation for you. I think we can be sure that other universities also are quietly changing their regulations at this very moment.

To go to war over living in a vehicle would be a distraction from the real issue -- the high cost of education and the human misery of student debt.

Ken said...

Nick--Compelling indeed! To be honest, I've enjoyed it thoroughly. It's certainly recharged my batteries.

Heidi--I don't know why they're so squeamish about future vandwellers. Campus policy, in many ways, exacerbates the debt problem when they should be doing everything they can to help students lessen their debt loads. I don't know what it is about vandwelling that they find so objectionable.

Kenavo--Waste of time and words, absolutely not. Sure, I will not reverse their regulation, but a very interesting and important discussion can come from this.

David--I chose to live in a van for a variety of reasons. I thought I'd save money, I thought it would be fun, but I also did it to bring attention to issues related to debt and the ridiculous cost of a college education, hence this blog, the article, interviews, etc. So I guess I'm saying that this "war about living in a vehicle" is about much more than if and where I can park. This is about debt, and it's always been about debt. The best way to get to the real issue--I determined--is with the aid of an ascetic act. So I will go to war, not with opening the lots for future vandwellers in mind (though that would be nice), but for, as you say, the larger issue: to create a dialogue about debt, and to show how colleges and the nation at large aren't doing enough about it.

theevildrsin said...

so any specific plans yet after graduation?

Anonymous said...

Yep, looks like you are gone.
The new place looks better from those pics. Is that bamboo behind you ? You could use it to make something for van or a fishing pole to catch some free food.
Have fun and enjoy your new lot;)

Maybe you can use this pic some how.

If i could care, haha

Anonymous said...

Changing the rules= classic idiocy.

Perhaps the new rules will say something like: "All students and visitors are prohibited from living in a vehicle in order to attend classes. Vehicle dwelling is permitted, however, for those attending, or hoping to attend, sporting events."

Perhaps you could propose the rules yourself: "Any student found to be living in a vehicle will be restricted from living in official University housing for the remainder of the academic term." Maybe it could slip by?


Ken said...

Evil--sorta. I should note that I expect to be broke. And I say broke quite literally. I will have, I estimate, just a couple hundred dollars left. I am really cutting it close on my goal to graduate debt free, which is all my fault, because I elected to not work this past summer.

Anyway, I will live off the good will of friends for a little bit, and I'm currently writing a book, which I'm reluctant to talk about because there's an overwhelming chance that it doesn't get picked up by a publisher. If that doesn't work out, I have two ideas for travel magazine articles, and a travel book that I think would be superb. I'm going to hold off revealing any of them for now. Thanks for asking!

Brickstone--I think it is bamboo. Spot has been wonderful so far. VERY quiet lot. Ha--thanks for the map--I loved parking next to that giant rectangle of lawn.

Surgeon--I'd be happy to work with them in any way, actually. They really ought to permit students to do it on campus where the lots are well lit and patrolled. Durham can be a scary place and I wouldn't want to be a new student, looking for safe places to park in the city, outside the university.

Romana S said...

Those plants, are they bamboo, or.... something else? I've only ever seen pictures of hemp online or on tv, but well, that looks like it, or bamboo.