Jan Stafford Kellis

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I once lived in a car. I was only 17, so there were no worries about personal safety or suspicious shadows because I was still immortal. Sleeping while sitting up in the driver’s bucket seat of a 1977 Ford Pinto caused no physical repercussions as I leapt out the door every morning, fresh faced and full of energy, performing an abbreviated personal cleansing ritual before working all day as a waitress in a busy medium-priced restaurant. My tips amounted to $100/day, but I was reluctant to spend any of it on lodging. Who  needed a bed when I had a perfectly fine and comfortable Pinto, and generous friends whose showers I could use? Life was simple then.

When I mention living in the car to my children (this happens only rarely and after I’ve had a couple beers) in an attempt to illustrate how rough I had it, the kids are always skeptical. “I doubt it, Mother. You can’t even sleep in a tent, let alone a car.” It’s true. I can no longer sleep in a tent or on a blow-up mattress. If I sit for too long on any kind of chair, hard or soft, reclining or straight-backed, my back and legs stiffen up and require an embarrassing sequence of Yoga moves to loosen sufficiently to walk like someone my age (40) rather than an octogenarian.

Maybe living in the car caused my muscles to begin petrifying prematurely. Sometimes I blame the car-living for my restlessness–I have never, before or since, been able to literally wake up and drive. One time I was reading by the dome light and fell asleep and had to push start the car the next morning, popping the clutch just before the on ramp (did I mention I lived in the car at a rest stop along the freeway?). It was quite invigorating to jump out of the car and immediately perform intense calisthenics and strength training. Again, I was 17. I remember all of these events clearly but can’t imagine feeling energetic after sleeping in a car.

Everyone’s question, upon hearing of my car-capades, is: How long did you do that?

This is where the story disappoints. I should have stuck it out, stayed in the car longer. Think of the adventure–the stories I would tell! I could have slept the whole summer in that Pinto, relying on my little battery-powered alarm clock (this was in pre-cell phone 1987) to stir my brain every morning. And the creepy shadows? I barely  noticed them.

So how long was it? “One week,” is my standard answer, unless someone probes or expresses doubt, at which time I confess “five days”. Five measely days I now look upon sometimes as high adventure, sometimes as teenage folly from which I was lucky to escape unscathed.