For just $97 a night, you could “experience the #VanLife in NYC!,” as one since-deleted Airbnb listing put it, staying in a red van with sweeping views not of a mountain or a waterfall but of … the Bubbles N Go laundromat on East 2nd Street. Although it’s illegal to park a converted van on New York City streets for longer than 24 hours, somehow that red Ford Econoline, along with six others, have been hosting guests on city curbs for the past two years. But on Thursday and Friday, the sheriff’s office impounded all seven in a sweep it named “Operation Room Service.”
It wasn’t as though the authorities had completely ignored the vehicles: One racked up $1,500 in parking tickets in less than a year. All had New Jersey plates, three of which belonged to other vehicles, while a fourth’s tags expired 21 years ago. It’s unclear who, exactly, owns any of the vans. But at least one, the East Village van, had a curious guest: Uptin Saiidi, a YouTuber from California who stayed in the van in early August and documented the experience on his channel.
Saiidi’s first impression of the early-’90s Econoline, which was parked on East 2nd Street between Avenues A and B, was that it smelled musty. “I’m kind of torn between ‘This is so ridiculous’ and ‘I’m so excited,’” he said in the video. With little more than a bed in the back and curtains on the windows, there wasn’t much in the way of amenities — or even the basics, like a bathroom or a sink. “I have no idea where I can go to the bathroom in the middle of the night,” he said. “Nancy,” the host, had suggested some options: He could shower at Blink Fitness on Avenue A and use the bathroom in Tompkins Square Park or the nearby Starbucks during the day or at Yuca Bar or Lilly’s at night. Saiidi did manage to sleep through the night, and the van only racked up one parking ticket during his stay, but it clearly wasn’t the first — when Saiidi tried to turn the engine on, it wouldn’t even turn over.
As illegal schemes go, the Village van rental doesn’t appear to have been a successful one: Saiidi said that the listing had very few reviews, suggesting that only a handful of people were tempted by the urban #VanLife experience.