By Meagan White
The view from Michael Bouchillon’s front window is often never the same from night to night. And that’s just fine with him.
Bouchillon, 20, a music business major, is not homeless, however. Well, he is homeless in the sense that he doesn’t have an apartment like most of his classmates, but he does have a roof over his head, even if it’s a 1992 cream-colored Dodge van.
Bouchillon (pronounced BOO-SHON) lives in his van. His friends know it. His family knows it. His grandfather even thinks it’s “really cool.” His grandmother, well, not so much.
“She thinks I’m crazy. I can go anywhere, and know that I have someplace to sleep,” he said, sitting in the back of his van, his feet dangling.
Surviving with Flair
Bouchillon’s van appears standard from the outside, but when he swings open the rear doors, it becomes home. An insulating pad and textured carpet replace the usual car floor upholstery, while Coca-Cola signs and band posters decorate the interior. A colorful tapestry sheet blocks the side windows to deter nosey passersby.
“I haven’t had any problems with the police or anything yet,” he said, flipping his shoulder-length brown hair back with his hands. He noted his friends “are very generous and don’t mind me parking at their places.”
Unlike some students who might choose to cut corners to afford finer things, Bouchillon chose to move from his grandparents’ home in Franklin for a simpler, more independent life. He moved not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
“I did a lot of research on it before it before I actually moved in,” he said. “I had the means, I did the research … so I moved in.”
Much has been made in the press about the phenomenon of students choosing to live in their vehicles to save rent money. A Duke University student even wrote a book – “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road to Financial Freedom”– about his two years living in a van while in graduate school. It’s unclear how many students are trying to save expenses by taking this unusual step. Bouchillon said that he hasn’t met anyone else at MTSU who is living in a vehicle.
He said that inspiration came from bloggers on YouTube.
“There was this one guy,” he started. “I would watch his videos, and he was always very organized about what he was doing. I got lots of ideas from him. There are a lot of things to think about.”
He reached behind himself and pulled out a small battery.
“I got this,” he said, patting it. “When it’s powered up, I can charge my phone, laptop, anything like that. I’ve got a small space heater, too.”
From the polar vortex to the now fluctuating temperatures appearing in the seven-day forecast, the small source of warmth is a handy piece of equipment.
“It’s so intense,” Bouchillon laughed. “You’re sitting in your car, and you can start to see your breath. But I have a lot of cold-weather sleeping bags. Once I’m in there, it’s really not bad.”
Prized possessions, focused drive
His most important possessions are carefully boxed up with little room for anything other than the necessities. In the corner, there’s a white board where he writes himself a to-do list: “stuff he needs to get” and “stuff he forgot.”
“It takes a very organized person to live out of such a small space,” he said. “And, that’s the kind of person I am. I keep everything in its place.”
Less distraction has meant more productivity for Bouchillon, who has played the piano since he was 2-years-old. He had plans to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston, but veered toward MTSU when he learned he could receive a free ride.
Today, the pianist on wheels is minoring in piano, while giving lessons back home to young neighbors in his grandparents’ subdivision.
“Living [in Franklin] there were many distractions,” he said. “I like that this is much simpler.”
With a dream to be a rock star, Bouchillon has lowered his Xbox controller and picked up the guitar since moving into his mobile residence.
“I haven’t written any new songs yet,” he added, adjusting his aviators with a grin on his face. “But, I would definitely say this [experience] will inspire a song or two – maybe even an album.”
With school, music and a new van to call home, Bouchillon plans to stay on the road the next year.
“I mean I can turn back,” he said calmly. “I can go 30 minutes away and go back home if I wanted if all else goes wrong. But it’s kind of exciting once you’re in here, and it’s getting to be 15, 14 degrees. You’re starting to [see] your breath inside the van, and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to warm up and survive this night.’ It’s fun.”
Photos by Bailey Robbins. To contact the features editor, email email@example.com. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @mtsusidelines.