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

Real Estate Agent with Big Block Realty 858.232.8722 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 suppose I was scared after all... there was no thought put into this rash decision, what was I doing here? I only knew it was better here in my car than at home.

Home was a nice middle class San Mateo, Ca home in America- an outsider would say I had it made 

...and to some degree, I did. What was I thinking?  Ah, the fear of outside judgment.

But, why then was living in my car the choice I made, if life was so good, why am I living in a car? 

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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Dörte Engel
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Bowie, MD
ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton & rest of Maryland

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, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - 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 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
Realty One Group - 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
John Wiley
Right Move Real Estate Group- EXP Realty - Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL Real Estate GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

I am always encouraged when I see people who refuse to allow their circumstances to define their future.

You are a great example.

Mar 29, 2017 01:26 PM #38
Kasey & John Boles
Jon Gosche Real Estate, LLC - BoiseMeridianRealEstate.com - Boise, ID
Boise & Meridian, ID Ada/Canyon/Gem/Boise Counties

What an interesting history of your life and experiences Thomas, thanks for sharing it.  Living in a car as a teen (or anytime really), even for just a few weeks would be tough.   It sounds like you have found your place. -Kasey

Apr 04, 2017 06:01 PM #39
Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

I applaud your strength of character and the good choices you made at such a young age. Interesting that you are in the real estate business as you found out what it was like to be without a home...

Apr 06, 2017 02:23 PM #40
Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams fox cities - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

Thanks Thomas, it is the little adventures like this that build us into the strong people that we are. 

Sure glad to see that your adventure turned out so well.



Apr 06, 2017 02:29 PM #41
Diana Dahlberg
1 MONTH REALTY - Kenosha, WI
Real Estate in Kenosha, WI since 1994 262-308-3563

Really enjoyed reading your Contest Post ... and CONGRATULATIONS on winning!  Well deserved.  I feel like I really got to know alot more about  you Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, CRS and I have to say my story is "very similar" -- at least as far as living in a car and starting out on a rough edge and making the right decisions to succeed in life.  You are Amazing!  Thanks for sharing your story.

Apr 06, 2017 02:55 PM #42
Pete Xavier with AffordablePlan.org
Investments to Luxury - Pacific Palisades, CA
Outstanding Agent Referrals-Nationwide

Outstanding story & Victory! See you sometime in Italy, been there several times already.

Apr 06, 2017 04:17 PM #43
Kathleen Daniels
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
San Jose Homes for Sale-Probate & Trust Specialist

Thomas,  Sometimes a big change to really shake things up is all we need. You really dug deep and told your story well. You have overcome so much and earned your way to where you are now. Congratulations on your well deserved winning entry into Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, Broker, Tacoma Washington contest.   

Apr 06, 2017 06:21 PM #44
Andrea Bedard
Thompson Company, REALTORS® - Silver Spring, MD
M.A.; REALTOR® Silver Spring, MD and beyond

Just wow. What a story. I stopped by after I saw Paul's post announcing the winner of the contest. Truly well deserved Thomas - it wasn't just the your story, but the way you told it. Congrats! 

P.S. I completely understand this urge, this feeling of having to escape, I've been there. 

Apr 06, 2017 06:38 PM #45
Melissa Jackson
Riverside Homebuilders - Sales Consultant - Springtown, TX
Your New Home Sales Consultant in Parker County

Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, CRS What a story.  Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on being chosen.  

Apr 06, 2017 07:46 PM #46
Mick Michaud
Distinctly Texas Lifestyle Properties, LLC Office:682/498-3107 - Granbury, TX
Your Texas Lifestyle is Here!

You displayed great courage and maturity to want to finish school and get on about your life.  Your life is the witness to your choices. 

Apr 06, 2017 07:52 PM #47
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, CRS - wow! Thanks for sharing your story (should have read earlier!)

Those years of life shape us who we are and what we can do for others!

Now I have even more respect for you. See you soon.

Apr 06, 2017 10:56 PM #48
Steve Higgins
RE/MAX Kelowna - Kelowna, BC

Hi Thomas,

Wow thank you for sharing your life story, I am glad it has turned out well for you. I can see why your story was chosen.

Apr 07, 2017 08:12 PM #49
Ryan Huggins - Thousand Oaks, CA
www.HugginsHomes.com - Thousand Oaks, CA
Residential Real Estate and Investment Properties

Wow!  I had no idea Thomas!  I can't even imagine what it was like.  I'm glad you had a VERY understanding and supportive Dean of Men there that instead of calling the cops or forcing you back into a toxic environment took the time to listen to you and to get you setup where you needed to be.

Apr 08, 2017 07:32 PM #50
Joan Cox
Metro Brokers - House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Wow Thomas, that is quite the story, and not living in fancy city in a different country, you were experiencing life.   So happy you are settled now and happy.

Apr 09, 2017 03:16 PM #51
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Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor, ePRO, CRS, RCS-D

& Host of Postcards From Success Podcast
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