My first friend in Whitehorse is an older man I meet in the automotive section of Canadian Tire the day I arrive.
He helps me with my engine and ends up giving me a tour of the city, introducing me to everything from the $1 showers at Robert Service Campground to the old tourism movie in the Visitor Information Centre cinema.
It isn’t until the end of our few hours together that I discover he and I are to be neighbours: we will both be living in our vehicles at the Walmart parking lot.
Our friendship develops over breakfast. Most mornings I wake to a knock on my camper door and an invitation across the parking lot, where eggs and coffee are being prepared.
We don’t have chairs or tables so I lean against the side of his truck while he bends over the propane burner he’s set on the pavement, adding cheese slices or thick hunks of onion to our eggs. When it’s ready, he hands me a plate and a mug — a McDonald’s cup he’s kept for me to re-use — and we stand beside each other, fueling ourselves for the day, exchanging occasional glances with passing shoppers.
He and I find ourselves here for the same reason: we love the Yukon. But while for me, living in a vehicle is part of a larger and long-planned philosophical lifestyle experiment, for him it is simply what you do when you don’t own a house.
As our friendship progresses the knocks on my camper door extend into later periods of the day. There is always something good on the other side — a loaf of bread split from a two-for-one pair, a bulk jar of jam on sale for 89 cents, a giant bag of potatoes he’d like to give me half of.
Sometimes, small adventures are on the other side of the door: like tours of the Porter Creek industrial area. Once I was needed to steer a van he was towing behind his truck with a rope.
The Whitehorse Walmart has to be the most beautiful Walmart in Canada. The Yukon River practically runs through it, a van-dweller’s front yard of sorts, offering quiet spots to sit and read, write, meditate, pray.
From my camper I can watch eagles circling the water. I fall asleep to the call of gulls. It’s a short bike ride from anywhere a downtowner might like to go, and it’s more eco-friendly than driving in and out of the core to a camping spot each day. Plus it has a washroom.
Living in a parking lot also offers a sense of independence that sleeping on residential or city property doesn’t. You don’t feel like you’re breaking rules or getting in the way — because Walmart is a huge, excessively successful corporation. It has put a lot of pavement down on top of a lot of natural habitat; now these parking lots have become a new kind of habitat.
However, it can feel vulnerable living out the private details of daily life in a public space. The fiberglass camper walls that shelter me from the rest of the world are thin. This means I worry about what I might be letting out, but more often I feel myself graced by what finds its way in.
Like the other night when, at 10 p.m., I heard a knock on my door and opened it to find my friend with a litre of sherbet he’d left out to melt and a straw in his hand and the words, “I made you a milkshake.”