Far From "The Car" in America's Finest City

Real Estate Agent with Big Block Realty CA BRE# 01261476

This is my March 2017 ActiveRain Contest #3 entry for: 

March 2017 challenge, Tell me the most unique or special place you have lived? by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, Broker, Tacoma Washington 

The most unique home I’ve ever lived in was my car, in the parking lot of my high school.

I was homeless for a few weeks at age 16-17, my senior year. I left a mostly mentally abusive situation, some physical, for fear of what it was doing to me and what I was becoming as a result of it. It was not a planned departure, so I spent a few weeks living in my car in my high school parking lot. I still went to school, I still went to work at Safeway Grocery Store after school...but I went to bed in the back of a 1977 Ford Pinto Wagon at night, weird.


My best friend Dean N., parked next to me so he'd wrap on the window of my car to wake me up for class. Gym was first period, so my shower was covered and I got out of school by 1 p.m. so I had time before my 3 p.m. shift at work to do my homework. (Dean N. would later in life share, “I wish I’d invited you to live at my home, I don’t know what I was thinking back then to not have offered.”)

A grand adventure for a teen; aside from always being cold at night (I used to drive to Happy Donuts at 3 a.m. and by 2 Old Fashions and a large Hot Chocolate for warmth), I wasn't scared, I was too pissed off at everything back then and determined to make it on my own to be scared. My parents were divorced when I was 2 yrs. and my step dad died when I was 11 yrs. No, I was scared too, there was no thought put into this decision, I just knew it was better here in my car than at home. Home was middle class America too, an outsider would say I had it made and to some degree, I did. Ah, the fear of judgment. But, why then was living in my car the choice I made, if life was so good? 

san mateo

Serra High School (home of Tom Brady) where I slept for a few weeks.


The grand plan came crashing down one cold San Mateo March morning when the knock on my car window to wake me was not my buddy Dean, it was a different “dean”, the Dean of Men from my school-the disciplinarian! Ooops.

“Nelson, what the hell are you doing sleeping in your car?”

I told him the whole story and he just stared at me, then with a big sigh said “hit the showers then come to my office, skip gym, I'll write you a pass.”

The result of my meeting with the Dean of Men was, they would not further involve my mom under the circumstances, but I had to find a family member or friend to take me in...no more sleeping in my car at school.

I ended up calling my Dad's parents, my grandparents lived ¼ mile from my school and work, it would be a perfect place to finish school, but we were a bit estranged since my parent’s divorce.

Here’s where I learned the power of the pop-by gift: The dean told me to buy them a gift (I bought a potted plant) and go ask them to let you live with them until graduation, which was only 4 months away.

I did, they did and voila, I went from sleeping in the back of a 1977 Ford Pinto Station Wagon to sleeping in my own room in a beautiful home and neighborhood.

I often credit my school and my grandparents for keeping me on track so I could graduate. It was a tumultuous time of my life that got a little better for about 6 months as it turned out.

Would I go back, no! But, no regrets either. I’ll never forget the lessons it taught me. I found out what I was willing to do to improve my situation too; to not be a victim, rather to be a victor.


UTC 92121

This is my Office, directly shot from the driveway of my HOA...short commute!


The most special place I’ve lived is where I live know, in La Jolla Mesa Estate, within University Towne Centre (UTC) where La Jolla, University City and Sorrento Valley Mesa meet on the map. I moved here to get away from the “ever changing for the grind” Bay Area, a vindictive ex-wife and a fresh start for my new marriage. I knew if I wanted my life to change, I needed to leave my native hometown; I needed to be away from the co-dependency of a toxic family dynamic too, which hadn’t changed much from the Ford Pinto days.

I left to save my life from the fear of change…so I plunged into change.


I moved here, to UTC San Diego. University Towne Centre is adjacent to UCSD and La Jolla, CA

UTC La Jolla

A view of UTC and the Lower left corner of "The Golden Triangle".


I’ve never loved a home more than here because I started my life over here in 2003 with my new bride; a new marriage, new broker, new city where I knew NOBODY and it was the first time I’ve ever purchase a home the “traditional way”. All previous were seller financing, hard money and rent to own.


I love my nature filled hillside views, where rabbits play and the occasional deer or coyote run through. I love that I walk to work and I’m central to 4 freeways for commuting to appointments. I love that I’m 10 minutes to La Jolla Shores and have a dozen hiking trails to choose from, just outside my door.


La Jolla Mesa Estates

 This is the view we enjoy out of 80% of our windows!


I cherish the friends I’ve made here because it’s so much harder to make friends in your 30’s and 40’s than your teens and 20’s. I’m proud of the risk I took and the challenges I faced by relocating just in time to go through the Great Depreciation of 2006-2011. The fear of the Ford Pinto motivated me to become a short-sale expert! I built a new business, a new life and really energized my new marriage here. I love living in America’s Finest City. If I ever left her, I would return to her indeed. I'm proud to be far from the "Pinto days", living in America's Finest City, I'll never forget what I overcame to be here and I give thanks for my blessings every day!


San Diego is the best place on Earth for me to call home for now. One day I fancy living part time in Italy, but that will be for another post in the December contest.


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Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding and Marketing


I am so happy that Kathy Streib featured you, and I had the opportunity to read it now that we are back from our AZ trip.  How wonderful that the Dean knew how to handle the situation with heart and wisdom.  Hats off to you and your amazing ingenuity.  A

Mar 19, 2017 09:21 AM #18
Margaret Goss
Baird & Warner Real Estate - Winnetka, IL
Chicago's North Shore & Winnetka Real Estate

Such a heartfelt story - and one that I can relate to.  While I never experienced abuse of any kind, there were some difficult circumstances in my home.  It made me who I am - and it made you who you are today.  I don't think we'd ever change a thing.

Mar 19, 2017 10:04 AM #19
Mick Michaud
Distinctly Texas Lifestyle Properties, LLC - Granbury, TX
The lifestyle you want, the place to live it

"Interesting" doesn't do your story justice.  Glad you had the maturity in high school to push toward a better future.  Seems things go work out in time. 

Mar 19, 2017 10:15 AM #20
Jeff Dowler
Solutions Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad

Hi Thomas

Thank you for sharing this very personal part of your life, and one that no doubt has influenced you in many ways. The Dean of Men was a pretty smart guy!


Mar 19, 2017 10:35 AM #21
Wayne Johnson
Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS® - San Antonio, TX
San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale

Now that's a tough start in life. Persistence and focus.

Mar 19, 2017 10:53 AM #22
Diana White-Pettis
Exit Bennett Realty - Upper Marlboro, MD
GRI, CDPE, CNE, Upper Marlboro Homes for Sale

Thomas, thank you for sharing this heartfelt and inspiring post.  You are a true survivor and a living testimony of how people may look at your glory without knowing your story.  You've been blessed with many people who have made great contributions into your life and it is obvious that you are paying it forward each day.



Mar 19, 2017 02:10 PM #23
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Hi Thomas - it is not where you start but where you end up.  Thanks for sharing. 

Mar 19, 2017 02:19 PM #24
Debra Leisek
Bay Realty,Inc Homer Alaska - Homer, AK

You are living proof that its not what life hands you it what you make of the hand your dealt. Congratulations to you for being successful in spite of the odds... you are a true role model! thank you!

Mar 19, 2017 03:43 PM #25
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Baltimore, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

I hope there is some way that dean knew how important his imput was in your life.


Thank you for sharing your challenging journey with us. Wishing you and your bride a lifetime of happiness. 

Mar 19, 2017 05:46 PM #26
Lynn B. Friedman
Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ... - Atlanta, GA
Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers

Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, CRS 
Thanks for sharing the amazing journey you took to the happy days now. Very inspiring for sure. You are the definition of TRUE GRIT. All the best - Lynn

Mar 19, 2017 08:07 PM #27
Kat Palmiotti
Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty, Monroe NY Real Estate, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com - Monroe, NY
The House Kat

Thank you for sharing your personal story. I'm sure there is so much more behind these words that resulted in the person you are today. You were strong enough to know that you had to take control of both situations - leaving your house as a teenager, and leaving your Bay area home. Kudos to you for your strength and optimism.

Mar 20, 2017 03:42 AM #28
Realty One Group Alliance - San Mateo, CA
Broker Associate & Licensed Architect

Thomas, I appreciate you for sharing your life story. 

Mar 20, 2017 05:46 AM #29
April Swenson
Coldwell Banker Ocean Shores Brokers - Ocean Shores, WA
CRS and Managing Broker - Ocean Shores Real Estate

Wow, what a story and experience. Thank you for sharing. I really appreciated reading your testimony.

Mar 20, 2017 11:41 AM #30
Francine Viola
Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, Olympia WA - Olympia, WA
Realtor, In Tune with your Real Estate Needs

What an amazing story, and written so beautifully!  

Mar 20, 2017 12:37 PM #31
Dörte Engel
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Bowie, MD
ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton

Dear Thomas,

Do you ever pick cactus fruit, when they are in season? Kinda cumbersome to eat, but delicious. I think, there are bunch by where you live.

Mar 20, 2017 08:23 PM #32
Nick & Trudy Vandekar
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtors, Philly Main Line

Wow, that is some story and am sure as hard as it was it set you up to overcome struggles throughout your life. This has been a very interesting competition. I am sure I have missed lots of people's posts but the ones I have read have been fascinating.

Mar 21, 2017 07:51 AM #33
Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker
Mike McCann - Broker, Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska - Kearney, NE
Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940

Great post and kudos for driving a Pinto Wagon!  I am happy you were able to break free and to be successful! I am sure you have helped many since then as well! We all struggle...but not all of us escape the struggle. I am glad you did!

Mar 21, 2017 11:36 AM #34
Melissa E. Spittel
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Westminster, MD
"Achieving Results Together "

Good for you for having the strength and determination to become a victor. You have set a great example for so many people. It makes me so happy to hear the success stories of people who have chosen not to remain the "victim", but instead trudge forward to succeed. I hope the Dean knows what a difference he made in your life. 

Mar 21, 2017 01:59 PM #35
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

Looks like it's all working out for you these days. Love the view from your home.

Mar 21, 2017 06:34 PM #36
Les & Sarah Oswald
Eastvale Team Realty & Property Mgmt - Eastvale, CA
Broker, Realtor and Investor

Thank you for sharing. You are truly a victor and not a victim of your circumstance.

Mar 22, 2017 07:15 PM #37
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Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, CRS

Co-Host of Mail-Right's: Real Estate Agent Podcast
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