Guest Column

Temporary Shelter: A Home on Wheels


by Michelle McCormick

 Each time I’ve attempted to own a home, I’ve lost it by a natural disaster or relational tsunami. Cases in point, our family home in Texas, the early death of my father and subsequent fire; condo in California, the end of a relationship; and the adobe in Taos, a stoned realtor who said, “Honestly, I had no idea I’d sold y’all someone else’s land.”


            And this after throwing over too much money to a Venice Beach architect for some kinda hip, urban, Frank Lloyd Wright knock-off design. This, after two years of developing that pristine, five-acre parcel with expansive views of Taos Mountain. Heck, I’d put in the deepest well in the valley, back-hoed roads, brought in electric from the city grid, and beheld the wonder of a communal barn-raising. My plan was to grow old on that land, with those neighbors, in that relationship.


The illusion of home ownership soured. The job ended. The well dried up, prompting a move back to So Cal and a decade of renting a cottage in north Laguna Beach. Until this spring, when I stumbled upon an opportunity to slip into owning in this beachside community I’ve come to call home, an impossible dream of affordable housing.



            Now, I am the proud owner of a 1,000 square-foot doublewide, manufactured home in Laguna Terrace Park. I swear I’m not trailer trash. Nope, these trailers look like honest-to-god, Cape-Cod-style cottages. And, location, location, location. I’ve got a view of the Pacific Ocean. This land is rural and civilized, sitting between verdant, coastal hills and an oceanfront resort. The Montage lounge is my spare living room, their grounds my front yard. Once inside my home, guests experience the warmth and aesthetic feel of a contemporary Taos adobe. Works for me.



The only catch: although I own the home flat-out with no debt, I lease the land under it.  The perfect solution or the perfect storm?  When I told Texas folks that I’d

bought a house on wheels without owning the property under it, they stroked-out. My Merrill Lynch broker in Dallas explained that my purchase involved choosing a unique lifestyle that clearly precluded a maximum ROI return-on-my-investment. There, land and place are everything with socio-economic status reflected by the location and appearance of one’s home. My peers’ homes adorn the front covers of Architectural Digest and

D Magazine. So, I carefully explain that they hide the wheels on these trailers with a fancy skirt; no trashy bales of hay in this joint. What a deal. A “house to go” that can roll right on outta here if needed. A creative solution mitigating all circumstances.


            Truth is, I remain subject not only to natural disasters but political and economic ones: the plans of Laguna Terrace Park owner, Steve Esslinger; my environmentalist friends who wanna kick me right on outta here to create “open space”; and to the California Coastal Commission, all just waiting for a land grab. A recent court ruling declared that the Coastal Commission, not the city, holds jurisdiction over this historicall inhabited land. Residents remain confused about their rights and future here.


And yet given my history, this newly acquired relationship with my doublewide seems the perfect leap of faith. Why not? Buddhists would say, “Home is where compassion dwells.” Christians would say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” And Muslims would say, “As Allah wills.”


Will I have to say, “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon?”


Michele McCormick, a writer and psychologist, hosts DimeStories Orange County. She read her stories at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in 2010 and 2011.


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