Arts and Culture

The Mayday Experiment: The Truck Stops Here

The tiny house was supposed to be showcased this past weekend at ArtDenver, and even though getting it to the second floor of the Colorado Convention Center sounded challenging, I was thankful to receive the invitation. So at the beginning of the week I scrambled to get the door in with my friend Jeff Ball, but failed to do it before the snow arrived. I wish I could claim to be a hardy Midwesterner, like my friends in Ohio who seemingly think nothing of sub-zero arctic frost, but alas, I am made of weaker stock, and the idea of screwing in the frame in -2 degrees was a non-starter. Door or no door, the show must go on, and I fretfully watched the forecast and communicated my alarm daily to the organizers of the festival.

My maiden voyage with the tiny house had taught me some important lessons, including what it takes to stop roughly 6,000 pounds or so. And doing it on ice, forgive the pun, chilled me to the core. It's a relatively short distance from my home on the edge of Five Points across downtown to the convention center, but it's a distance fraught with hazards and more traffic than I had ever driven through with tiny in tow, and safety needed to be my guiding light.

See also: The Mayday Experiment's Maiden Voyage

The initial plan had been to move it Thursday, but one look at the streets told me that plan was not a good one. Friday was expected to be a balmy 34 degrees, so I decided that first thing in the morning, I would hitch it up and head slowly across downtown Denver.

ArtDenver is a new, annual art festival put on by the good folks at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. I had been invited to bring the tiny house there as one of two installations. I saw it as a great opportunity to network, fundraise and discuss my mission. I had met the organizers of the festival when they invited me to be a juror at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival this year -- a daunting task, reviewing 2,000 artists in a week, which they had streamlined to a well-oiled machine. So I knew ArtDenver would be a great event.

The night before the move I ventured out into the cold to see the work of my mentor at Ohio State University, Ann Hamilton, at Robischon Gallery. Bertha had been starting all week, reluctantly, because of an engine block warmer I kept plugged in. The reality check of what diesel fuel -- let alone biodiesel, which is reportedly even more finicky -- did in the winter was a new shock to me, but I was pleased that each day the truck had still started and gone to work.

Bertha had stranded Philip and me three times in the previous months -- once, we had towed her to my mechanics' place, only to find that she started the minute she was taken off of the tow truck. The other two times we simply waited, and on the last one a trip to Waffle House across the street from the gas station where she stubbornly refused to turn over proved just the amount of time necessary to allow the flooded engine to restore itself. But Thursday night was different. She started instantly and easily, and with the usual failed attempts at reverse (a maddening problem, even after a $1,000 clutch) I was finally on my way from LoDo back to Five Points. For a block.

And then she died, with the fuel filter light glowing an angry red in the dash. Desperate pumping of the key and tapping the gas peddle got her another block before she lurched to a new, difficult to control rolling halt again, brakes and steering stiff and locking in the cold without the engine. After five tries, I glided to a parking meter and put my head in my hands.

An Uber ride home later and I was in bed, resolved to get up early (anathema to me on any day) and beat the ticket by arriving at 8 a.m. and, hopefully, magically starting her. Even so, I signed up for AAA online, printed out my e-mailed receipt and borrowed by best friend's car to go deal with my mess.

Of course there was a ticket, even at 8 a.m. (Actually, at 1:48 a.m.: WTF Denver?!) And also of course, Bertha didn't start, at least not until she was dropped off with my mechanic, where she started instantly in the warming afternoon sun. Because of the cold, AAA gave me a five-hour wait and sadly, I gave my regrets to ArtDenver, which needed the tiny house up the ramp and indoors by noon. It was a disappointment - but then again, it would have been far worse to break down with the house hitched, in the middle of downtown traffic.

A fuel filter later, while Bertha doesn't purr like a kitten, she growls like a slightly more efficient lion.

It's a great irony that the climate was a big part of what prevented me from going to the convention center to display my tiny house and discuss climate change. But this also provides a reality check as I plan my route; my initial idea of going to Detroit in the winter suddenly looks even more stupid. Perhaps the birds have it right: south for the winter, so at least I can stay on the move.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, will be blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell.

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy