Photo by James BunoanIrvine: One-bedroom, one-bathroom Terry Coach trailer

Occupants: Amber Rinderknecht, Ramona and Ellis the dogs, and Kale the cat

Square footage: Approximately 700

Paid: $7,500 in 1999, plus roughly $150 per month in space rental and insurance

What has two wheels and goes real fast?

Any of the trailers at Irvine Meadows West, the trailer park inhabited by UC Irvine grad students, which is taking up valuable UCI land due to be occupied—ironically enough—by a parking garage, and is due to be razed, bulldozed, demolished, disappeared on or before July 31.

One of the more fetching—and more watertight—has to be the late-'50s Terry Coach model—now with the Terry Travel-Pak! whatever that is—owned by Irvine doctoral student Amber Rinderknecht, who is researching the equally unpronounceable effects of inhaled toxins on fetal development.

Hers is a relatively teeny 16-footer that originally must have had a hide-a-bed couch, weensy kitchen, requisite Formica dinette, bathroom and umpteen cupboards. That's my read, and I'm a certified vintage-trailer-ologist. The hide-a-bed is gone; it's Amber's desk, where her tiger-striped cat, Kale, snoozed away a recent balmy afternoon.

Like many of the trailers here, hers has a room actually built onto the outside of the trailer—two, in fact: a living room with a vaguely hippie-ish skylight, and a bedroom that butts up to the back wall of the trailer. Others here have add-on roofs, dens, rumpus rooms, second stories. One enterprising gent has even built a hot tub behind his domicile, replete with a view of some UCI maintenance yard and, beyond that, the rolling Irvine hills. Don Bren never had it so good.

Amber's digs are more modest, with a renovated kitchen—there's a new, full-size fridge shoehorned in by a previous tenant and a newish sink, too. Her bathroom has a newer toilet from a house, too; it was that way when Amber bought the trailer in 1999 from its previous tenant for $7,500. (She pays $130 per month to rent her space from UCI, plus insurance.)

"I really like all these fasteners," she told me, showing off the vintage chrome door pulls—the kind that actually hold the cabinet door shut so your cast iron skillets won't go flying when your Desi Arnaz of a husband makes a hard left, pulling the trailer with his Pontiac or something.

Surprisingly, the john, the trailer and all the trimmings weren't the only reasons Rinderknecht moved here to live amongst morning glory vines, pampas grass and fragrant paper bark trees. The trailer park was.

"Grad students come here, and they are appalled by the beige-ness of Irvine, and then they see the trailer park, and they have a glimmer of hope," Rinderknecht said. "It's fascinating what people do with their trailers."

What these people have done when they're hemmed in on all sides by this orderly, useless conformity is create their own little Laguna Canyon circa 1970, their own little Topanga Canyon circa 2004, if you know where to look.

It doesn't matter, Rinderknecht tells me again and again, that they're all grad and doctoral students, lecturers—making peanuts to do the research that professors are too busy writing grants to do for themselves.

These 100 or so people—the students—actually talk to one another, unlike so many other planned communities where SUVs pull up and people walk fast into their houses.

"I've learned so much living here," Rinderknecht said. "Dealing with your own property, dealing with your own insurance, dealing with your neighbors—it embodies the essence of education."

And soon, it'll be gone—making way for cars, which aren't nearly as much fun to live in.


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