Neighbors of the East Bay: Meet Jo Biasi
We pass by people every day who make up the fabric of our neighborhoods, in big and small ways. Each person has a story to tell, and most often, they’ll surprise you. This series is an opportunity to take the time to stop and meet some of those people and to share their unique stories. The goal is to celebrate and strengthen and our East Bay community, one neighbor at a time.
Bibliophile. Dog trainer. Web and graphic designer. Gamer. Bookkeeper. RV dweller. Pet sitter. Creative.
Jo Biasi (she/her) is all these things, and she is your neighbor of the East Bay.
You want to get to know Jo, because she quite literally is all of our neighbors. Jo’s primary residence is a 20-foot RV, which is, for the moment, parked in a quiet El Cerrito neighborhood. Born in Florida, Jo has also lived in Nevada and Placerville before deciding to call the East Bay home.
When facing a rent increase in her shared apartment, Jo decided to forgo renting in favor of something that better fit her lifestyle and budget. Jo breeds, shows and trains dogs — specifically, the Manchester breed, of which she has three. More than just a job, it’s a passion that frequently takes her all over the country. Believing she was effectively throwing rental money, she decided to go mobile a little over a year ago, and hasn’t looked back since.
In her early 50’s, and with the effervescent spirit and smile of someone half her age, Jo took time to speak with me about what makes a good neighbor and community member, RV life, “boondocking” and the stigma of calling an RV “home.”
LF: Tell me about the logistics of RV life – for example, when looking for a place to park, do you have a checklist of sorts? How do you decide where and when to park it?
JB: Well, ideally I like to plug in – otherwise, I’ll boondock, which means that you don’t have access to services. Other than that, I look for someplace quiet, safe, and within proximity of where I need to be for work or life stuff. When I’m at dog shows, there’s a ton of other RVs, so there’s usually access to services like water, waste disposal and electric that I need.
LF: So whereas others might use schools, proximity to work, access to public transit, etc. as criteria when searching for a home or apartment once a year or more infrequently, you are making these decisions on a sometimes daily basis, and in real time. Does that ever get stressful?
JB: You know, sometimes it does, but its so much less stressful than when I used to rent, overall. I have specific needs that my RV best meets, whereas when I rented I actually stressed out about stuff like paying for utilities that I wasn’t there to even use or enjoy.
We chatted a bit about the cost of living in the East and Greater Bay Area, and Jo, being the self-described “numbers geek” that she is, showed me a recent article that cited a study reporting that over 41 percent of California households are “cost burdened” – the highest in the nation. The impact of this burden is something that can be felt across all lines of division. As Jo and I spoke more, I couldn’t help but imagine a new California – one where “the American dream” is realized not through home ownership, but through RV ownership, affordability and accessibility. Where the cars found in drop-off lanes at local schools are replaced with RV’s. Where families are truly “upwardly mobile,” in the most literal sense. Where students have easy access to schools in any part of the state, and where their enrollment is based on the wants and needs of the family unit, wherever opportunity takes them. Historically speaking, surely this concept is familiar to California and our country at large.
As a former public school employee, I am sadly aware of the stigma students bear when others find out that they or their families call an RV “home,” but what about adults? Does the same stigma exist for them? Jo confirms the stigma exists for people of all ages.
JB: Sometimes when am parked or am house sitting for a friend, I do notice people keeping their eye on me and my RV. I always make it a point to wave, to be friendly, to be conversational if it’s appropriate. I introduce myself, and let them know that I’m the one living in the RV on their street. Usually after a few days, they warm up to me.
LF: To me, you kind of seem like the ideal East Bay neighbor – I mean, you’re friendly, community minded, and you add to the fabric of the community you are in…what’s not to like?
JB: Thanks! I really try to add, to not take away…if I’m out walking my dogs, I’ll be sure to pick up any trash I see – in addition to picking up their poop! And when I’m parked in front of this local convenience store, I always keep my eye on it when they close, or if the owner is out of town. They tell me that they miss me when I’m not there – I’m kind of like the night watchman, I guess. I’ve built relationships like that with a few small business owners around the East Bay.
LF: So are there things that you miss about renting, or about living in the traditional sense of dwelling?
JB: I do miss having a full-sized kitchen – stuff like doing the dishes can be challenging at times. I’m able to use friends or those that I house sit for when I need to prepare bigger meals, which is super helpful. Living in an RV really makes you aware of your consumption of water, of electricity, of waste…of everything!
LF: You really seem to have this down to a science, is this your first time calling an RV “home”?
JB: This is my first time being truly mobile in an RV, yes. I’ve lived in RV’s that were stationary, or semi-permanently parked on friends’ land. In my early 20s, I also lived in an “off grid” community near Shingle Springs, which gave me experience being comfortable really reducing my environmental impact.
LF: I can’t think of a better way to learn skills that you now call upon every day!
JB: I really did enjoy that type of living. It was a 100 percent solar powered house and community – solar before solar was ‘cool,’ I suppose. We had two electric vehicles, a converted Ford Escort and a Kiewet, which at the time was considered a ‘car of the future.’
LF: Ahhh. The ‘Subaru Justy’ era.
JB: (laughs) We had one of those! It was our ‘gas car.’ I guess everything old really is new again.
LF: Is there anything in particular you’d like to let your neighbors of the East Bay know about you?
JB: That everyone has a story, and it’s so worth it to take time to get to know your neighbors, no matter where they live or what they live in.
As our conversation drew to a close, and it came time for her to feed her dogs, I genuinely appreciated getting to know Jo – in as much as 15 minutes could allow – and walked away with a newfound desire to connect with more of the people I pass by every day. The fabric of the East Bay, and greater Bay Area, is comprised of a richness beyond its palpable and disparate wealth; for the majority of my East Bay neighbors, that kind of financial wealth is far beyond our reach, and so perhaps it is time for us to redefine what being “wealthy” actually means to ourselves and the communities we value most.
If you know of an East Bay neighbor with a great story we should highlight, please shoot me an email.