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On the Road

Vol. 1-8

On the Road

Vol. 1-8

This Space Is a Blank Canvas

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"I've learned that van life is a state of mind actually, that's one of the biggest things that I figured out."
—Jupiter

Filmmakers’ Notes

At this point in the trip, we had started to settle in a bit. We’d been in Joshua Tree for a couple of days, and we’d been sharing camp with a group of other people in vehicles on BLM land outside of the national park. Some of these people were already friends, some were total strangers, but sitting around the fire at night we began to get acquainted. That’s where we found Jupiter, who had been camped in the desert in their 1979 RV, with a big white bear of a dog named Zeus, and Apollo, who Jupiter describes as a German Shepherd with an attitude. The conversation we started together over a beer ended up weaving itself in and out of concepts like wanderlust and adventure to political theory, gender identity, and creativity, and left us feeling enlightened, challenged, and inspired. Some excerpts of this conversation are included here.

Read the Interview

Henry:
I think you’ve heard us talk about this loosely, but part of this series is connecting people to their vehicle and asking why you’re out here living this life. So I think just to start, when did you buy this RV?

Jupiter:
Man, I bought this RV in July of 2019. My lease was going to end at the end of August. So naturally, in – what was it? May? – I started looking for something else to do. I was living in fourth ward, midtown Houston, paying too much in rent, to be close to this job that I was less than stoked about. And I just was over it. I was like, it’s got to be something else. And I like these guys (the dogs), I like getting outside with them, and I didn’t have time to do that. I just thought, what can I do that’ll let me do that? I remembered my uncle had a RV in our backyard when I was a kid and I used to go in there when he wasn’t there and just hang out, pretend that I was cooking and shit. So I was like yeah, let’s do that, so that’s what I did. $2,000 later here we are (laughs).

Henry:
It sounds like a pretty quick decision. To go from like, “maybe I could do this?” to, “I own this vehicle”. How long was that?

Jupiter:
It was definitely a few months. I can say this now because I don’t work there anymore, but I worked at this travel insurance company doing travel security, and I was working the night shift when I first started looking for an RV…so I would spend all night watching vanlife YouTube videos and build videos. And that went on for a good three months before I started looking into it seriously in May. And then by July I had put $1,000 toward it.

My lease ended August 2, so August 3rd I had one of my friends drive me to this random ass RV park outside of Houston so I could pick it up. It was so raggedy – she had a carburetor problem that I didn’t know about really so on the drive home she would stall out every time we went below like 50 miles an hour.

So the three hour drive to San Antonio took 10 hours, and that was a nightmare. I started building it out in my great aunt’s backyard at first and I had this dumbass idea that I was gonna take this (RV) on a trip and then flip it and be back in Houston doing my corporate job by October. I took a month of PTO to build it, and I got in there and was like no, there’s not a chance, this thing is completely unlivable.

I was working the night shift when I first started looking for an RV…so I would spend all night watching vanlife YouTube videos and build videos.

So I moved in to my grandparents house while working on it, and I ended up meeting my grandpa through this thing, which was super fucking random. I reconnected with him and he let me park it on his property, so I spent a year from then building it out and he was down to help me. He helped me build the bed and fix random shit that I just had no idea what to do with. We took it out in the summer of 2020 and it caught on fire at one point, the carburetor busted. We were trying to go to Zapata Falls and it was not having it – the engine flooded and all of the gas in there just combusted – it was nuts. And then yeah, the tires fell off in Dallas. I’ve learned through my experience that she has little quirks, like tires with weird lugs that are from the 70s that people need to be sure they know how to use before I get my tires changed or I might die. And then we had a whole three-month saga of getting solar retrofitted. So she’s been a case study in problem solving, and in testing my creativity and my patience, but she’s been really worth it.

Henry:
I love it. Did you go on road trips as a kid? What was your connection to travel and to the road?

Jupiter:
I went on one road trip as a kid. The thing that really made me feel like I could just hit the road myself was when I went to Europe in 2017 for the summer. I just backpacked through Western Europe by myself for about eight weeks and I was like, if I could do that I guess I could live on the road huh? How hard could it be?

Henry:
It seems like it’s been a bit of a journey between the initial idea of buying the RV all the way to being in this space. What do you feel like that season taught you?

Jupiter:
Oh, wow… I’m capable of so much more than I thought. Even though I had the idea to buy the van, I have ADHD and the way that manifests for me is a lack of follow through. I really had a feeling that I was gonna just (give up), I think everybody did, even my grandpa that I just reconnected with. He was like, I love your energy, but I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t think you were gonna get that far. I’m like, Dude what the hell! (laughing), but it’s true. I didn’t either. Some days, I really wanted to not do it. I just wanted to be like, Fuck this, sell it, set it on fire, I don’t need this shit. But the idea that I can live a life where I can do whatever I want and be whoever I want, make whatever art or write whatever words, tell whatever stories I want to tell, especially about my own story, that really was a driving force. And I learned that I am capable of so much if, you know, the end result is something that I find worth it and fulfilling. And I think that’s allowed me to like to channel my talents and my strengths into so many other things. Now I’m like, Oh, shit, I can do stuff for the greater good. I just have to sit down and do it.

The idea that I can live a life where I can do whatever I want and be whoever I want, make whatever art or write whatever words, tell whatever stories I want to tell, especially about my own story, that really was a driving force.

Henry:
How do you feel about your home now?

Jupiter:
It hasn’t caught on fire in a while so I’m alright with it. I like it. Ask me when I’ve tried to get out of this desert!

Henry:
Do you think this counts as van life?

Jupiter:
(laughing) I don’t know! Does this count as van life? Some days I feel like it does, right? Yesterday I got a sunset and I was like,this is definitely van life, but then other times I’m like, yo, I don’t actually know where I’m gonna go next, this can’t possibly be it, I’m just gonna live in the desert forever. When I was parked at other people’s houses I was like, this is like squatter life, this is not van life but—

Henry:
I mean all those things sound exactly like van life…

Jupiter:
I’ve learned that van life is a state of mind actually, that’s one of the biggest things that I figured out. The spirit of wanting to wander and taking that into your own hands. And I feel like we all share this common need to get away from the norm and the prescribed idea of success and making it. Especially here in America, we’re given the idea, you know, buy the house, have the 2.5 kids, stable career, get your degree, get your post-grad whatever, pay off your debt till you die, retire, then have fun, and I feel like wanting to do something other than that, taking it into your own hands, especially when it means like, moving into a vehicle. I think that’s definitely van life.

And so the thing that I want to do most, that I hardly ever get time to do in cities, is read theory and theorize about, you know, what a world without things like prisons, or capitalism, or racism…what would that look like, or what that looks like for someone like me.

Henry:
I’m trying to think the best way to ask this, but as a queer black woman-

Jupiter:
Person. Non-binary. I’ve been getting misgendered all fucking weekend. It’s good. It’s good times.

Henry:
I’m really sorry about that… It seems like this journey is very much about expressing your voice. And obviously you’ve given thought to it, but as a queer person of color in this space, what are ways that “van life” needs to evolve?

Jupiter:
It’s very white… and it’s very cis(gender). And the queer spaces are very white, as well. The black spaces are very cis. I think that we need more intentional inclusivity. I think that making efforts to bring in and intentionally include other people, you know, like asking pronouns and having places and spaces be created where it’s not awful or isolating for someone to be, you know, trans or queer or, or anything like that, and making sure that when we do gatherings, there’s an understanding that any type of homophobia and racism, we’re not doing that. If you’re an asshole, get out. That type of stuff really goes a long way. These are people that you’re sharing camp with, and you’re sharing space with… to feel safe enough to exist in your home around them, that’s hard to do if you’re not making the effort to go a little bit further to include people as they are and where they are.

Henry:
I’ve been thinking a lot about exploring my own voice while on this trip, and I mean, I’m so encouraged by this courage and spirit you have about you. I know you’re searching for something that I just have no question you’re gonna find.

Jupiter:
Oh, my God, Henry, stop reading me! (laughing) It’s funny. You keep talking about my voice. I feel incredibly voiceless right now. Honestly, I felt that way for a while now. I was hoping that getting somewhere still like this would solve it, and I think I might stay here till it’s fixed. But for the past few months, I’ve felt blocked. Like I couldn’t say anything, and like, everything I said was wrong. Everything I made didn’t fully encompass anything, and when it did it was all really, really heavy. And I know that’s not it. You know what I mean? That’s not the breadth of my experience.

My experience is one that is so joyful. Like there’s so much joy in this dumbass house. I love it so much. There’s so much joy in being out with these dogs and getting to see them romp in all these different terrains and live their best life and see things that we’d never get to if I would have stayed at that job. We’d never be here. And that’s incredible.

Henry:
One of my last questions – I’ve heard you say a few times you were looking for that stillness looking for space. What is just being out in the middle of nowhere doing for you, as a person who, creatively, is now pretty far away from a late-night insurance job?

Jupiter:
This space is a blank canvas. And I get to sit here and do with it whatever my mind wants. My primary background and area of interest is ironically not love, but politics. And so the thing that I want to do most, that I hardly ever get time to do in cities, is read theory and theorize about, you know, what a world without things like prisons, or capitalism, or racism… what would that look like, or what that looks like for someone like me. What does a future like that look like for everyone? And I feel like here it’s quiet and still enough that I can think about those things uninterrupted. I can, you know, do the rest that that takes, because it does take a lot of energy. You would think that just thinking and pondering doesn’t take a lot of work but it kind of really does.

I’m just thinking about things that are good and things that I want to share, things that sound and feel like my voice, I guess.

I did debate in college and there’s this term called “fiat”, which essentially means that you can presume all conditions exist under which the thing that you’re theorizing happens, and so having to fiat my way out of Jeff Bezos or the government all the time, there’s really a toll that it takes on me and I’m like shit I need a nap! (laughing)

Then I get to get up and do yoga and I can start my mornings drawing and listening to music and doing these things that get me in a space where even if I’m not thinking politically, I’m just thinking about things that are good and things that I want to share, things that sound and feel like my voice, I guess.

Early in our conversation when I was asking Jupiter about their experience as a queer person of color in the world of “van life”, I misgendered them. In the moment, I felt embarrassed, but Jupiter was ultimately so gracious in the way that they responded. I think that their response allowed us to have the conversation that we ended up having, a conversation that felt like one of the most honest and open moments on our trip, and I’m grateful for that. After talking for a couple of hours, we went on a romp through the desert with Jupiter and the dogs. We eventually made it back to the RV as the sun was beginning to set and the whole sky had started to change from hazy orange to red and then purple. Jupiter turned around at the steps outside their front door and pointed out to the horizon and said, “Look at that. That’s the view from my house!”.