I wonder if Brandon still lives in a truck?
***Googles (ironically)*** … Also, 7 other things worth your time.
This is the story of a young man who did everything right: studied hard, graduated on time, got a high-paying job at a big tech company—and who then made an unusual decision.
It’s the story of Brandon, the Google engineer who lived in an 16-foot box truck in the parking lot on Google’s campus.
A member of the class of 2015 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Brandon (I don’t think he’s ever revealed his last name) had interned at Google during school. That meant that while he was excited about landing a job there after graduation, he was also anxious about the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley.
More than that, he was concerned about becoming “boring,” as he put it. He envisioned that Normal Brandon, if there were such a person, would do what normal Google engineers did, with normal results:
He’d get together with a few other young employees and rent an apartment or house together.
He’d spend a lot of his time and money paying for the apartment, furnishing it, and commuting back and forth to Google.
Eventually, he’d get married, have 1.9 kids, move to the suburbs, and continue working in order to pay his mortgage and take the kids on trips…
Actually, when you put it that way, it does sound kind of bleak. Real “birth, school, work, death” stuff.
Anyway, Brandon began researching alternative ways of living, and he came across a brief narrative on Quora that a former Google engineer named Ben Discoe had written.
Short version: Discoe lived in a 1990 GMC van parked outside Google for 13 months, he said, and Google security bothered him only once the whole time.
It sounded like a plan to Brandon. He bought a 2006 Ford E-350 Super Duty cargo van—basically like a medium-size U-Haul truck—for $8,000:
“I would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at work, Monday through Friday. On weekends, I would ... explore the Bay Area for my other meals. ... I'd work out every morning at one of the corporate gyms, and shower and do other morning stuff after.
“If I needed a bathroom during the day, naturally I would use one at work, and I would hang around campus working on work and personal projects until I was ready to go to sleep, and then I would retire to my van conveniently parked in a nearby campus parking lot. ... I felt like I had my bases pretty covered.”
He pulled it off. Within four or five months, he broke even—meaning he’d saved as much by not paying rent as he’d spent on buying the truck and getting set up.
I first learned of Brandon and wrote about him six long years ago, when the blog he wrote about his experience got a bit of traction. Actually, “a bit of traction” is a major understatement.
He wound up on Good Morning America, all kinds of other TV shows, newspapers, blogs, websites. (I like to think he really made the big time when I wrote about him.)
He got his 15 minutes of fame. But then I wondered: What happened afterward?
Longtime readers might remember that I like to revisit some of the viral stories I’ve written about in the past, long after everyone else forgets about them and moves on.
Or this story, about the single mom who was shamed on social media after she said she took her federal tax refund and used it to pre-pay her family’s rent for a year. (We talked a few years later; as I wrote at the time, I can’t say her story has a happy ending, but I think we can call it a “happy middle.”)
So I thought: Let’s track down Brandon and see what happened. How long did he live in the truck? He couldn’t have kept doing it during the pandemic, could he? Is he still at Google?
Did he wind up getting married, having 1.9 kids, and moving to the suburbs anyway?
This was the easiest detective investigation ever on my part, because it turns out Brandon just recently updated his blog again and—well, he’s still in the truck.
Or more accurately, he’s back in the truck after taking time out to live in a normal apartment, move in with a girlfriend for a while, and then chain-stay at a bunch of AirBnbs (maybe not in that order).
“After a long, long year (and some change), I've sloughed off the normalcy of a one-bedroom apartment and slithered back into my truckly digs of yesteryear.
“And while the amenities and convenience of things like ‘electricity’ and a ‘bathroom’ and ‘not living in a legal grey area’ were nice additions to my life, I've got to say that I'm glad to be back.”
It’s a little harder now, because he left Google and works for a much smaller startup, so he doesn’t get free food all day long and can’t sort of hide out unnoticed on a giant corporate campus when he doesn’t want to be inside the box truck.
But he says he’s rediscovered libraries, and I say: Power to him, if he’s happy. Just…somebody remind me to to check back in come 2027, and see if there are any updates.
Call for comments: What’s the strangest living situation you’ve ever had? What did you learn through it, and was it harder to go to something more traditional afterward? (I have to point out that this is an unusual story simply because Brandon makes six figures, worked for Google, and lives in a truck by choice; there are many people without homes in America, including working poor who live in vehicles out of necessity; he actually writes about this point quite a lot.)
7 other things worth your time
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Baktash Ahadi, an Afghan-American who served as an interpreter in combat with both US and Afghan special forces, writes that one of the biggest failures by the US was that during 20 years at war, we made almost no attempt to understand the culture of the ordinary people who lived there: from not understanding why some Afghans viewed the Taliban as the lesser of two evils (over the Americans), to insisting on wearing sunglasses during conversations with locals (“a clear indication of untrustworthiness in a country that values eye contact.”) I can’t do it justice here, but it’s worth reading. (WashPost)
Maybe the cultural misunderstandings went both ways: Charlotte Bellis, a reporter from New Zealand with Al Jazeera English who stayed behind in Kabul toured the airport yesterday. She says Taliban forces there are “disappointed” and “angry” to find that all of the US military planes and helicopters that were left behind were “broken and beyond repair,” and that the Taliban truly expected we would simply leave them functioning military aircraft. (Al Jazeera English, via Twitter below)
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I somehow missed this, but earlier this summer, Amazon announced it will no longer test most job applicants for marijuana use. (It’s not that I use marijuana or that I am looking to work at Amazon; I’m just surprised I didn’t see this.) The company has now taken things a bit further, encouraging the independently owned delivery companies it uses to stop screening, too, in the hopes of overcoming a shortage of drivers. Reaction among delivery companies is mixed: “If one of my drivers crashes and kills someone and tests positive for marijuana, that’s my problem, not Amazon’s,” said one owner. (NPR, Yahoo Finance)
China has set national limits on the amount of time kids can spend playing online games: 1 hour a day, only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (Axios)
After 19 years, the last gallon of leaded gasoline in the world has been used. The final holdout, Algeria, depleted the last of its stockpile of leaded gasoline in July, according to the UN Environment Programme. (NPR)