RV by Corporate Campus | California Observations

RV, Recreational Vehicles, is an abbreviation I learnt in California.

So the backstory of this observation is that my girlfriend and I had been hopping around hotels for a while, and she eventually used up all her holiday balance and flew back. I am stuck in the bay area with my job, and not many things happening in my life after work. “How about some life experience, something your colleague K has been doing for years in Boulder, and it could really save you some money!” My inner mind was persuading me to try out living in a car. So the second day of my girlfriend’s return flight, I went to rent an SUV.

This is actually not an impulsive decision. I have seen RVs on the roadside around the Bay area, I’ve seen the rent price, and I’ve talked to my Uber drivers about how some of their friends share a RV. I’ve also talked to K, and know how he enjoys doing it in the mountains in Boulder. My inner self has been planning this for a while. It appears a logical choice. Living in a car gives you the ultimate freedom on where to live. You are detached to the non-sense rent price. You can also make full use of the facilities (shower in gym) in the company. You are essentially defying the master design of the bay area ecosystem with one simple choice, how cool is that!

My plan was to stay in the company garage for as long as possible, then switch to a residential area for the sleep. This is the recommended way by many fellow Reddit stealth campers. The first part went alright, I saw securities patrolling from time to time, but this is all fine because I am charging my EV with free company charger. nothing suspicious. By midnight, my car is almost full, so I have to go somewhere. When brainstorming which neighbourhood to go, I realize that there were quite some RVs parking on the streets near the company campus. I soon realize why this is also a perfect spot. With 99% buildings rented by tech companies, there are almost no people there, and the streets actually don’t have any parking restrictions. So no complaining neighbour at night + public property + no parking restrictions = perfect overnight spot. Once I arrive there, it turns out to be a people’s choice. Around 11:30 pm, RV neighbors start to roll in. The setup is usually a pickup truck with a RV trailer. But some also use a smaller car, and a semi-permanent large RV. I watched my neighbors preparing the RV for the night, expanding the additional space on the side, doing some small maintenance, and then finally went in for sleep. For me it was tougher because I hear all the noise from the street and I am not sure how deep I should sleep. But I generally feel safe, and it turned out to be alright safety wise. At 6 am, facility workers for the nearby companies start to appear, and I know it is time to slowly leave the site.

Two nights away, and I can no longer stand it. It is probably the missing mattress, the missing black shutters for the windows, or maybe also the freedom to sleep until nine. I don’t know how K does this with his SUV, but I don’t feel mentally stable after two nights. I start to doubt all my life decisions. To be honest, I feel that I am just sad to the fact that this idea came to my mind. I never had this kind of thought in my whole life. Not when I earn only 200 USD/month when I was studying in Beijing, not when I was relying on my parents’ support in Zurich, and certainly not when I am back in Shanghai. Knowing that the RV community exists just on the street by the company really makes me sad, and me not able to adapting to the community’s life is also disappointing.

But what ultimately leads to this? My Airbnb flatmate told me that he thinks California is successful because here people can do things, which they cannot / not allowed to do elsewhere. I am not sure about that, but my humble conclusion of the whole car camping experience is that I am probably too weak.

In any case, I am stuck with one more useless thing, the company gym membership, which, unlike the enrolment, cannot be unsubscribed online.

Arbitration Agreements | California observations

I moved to the Bay Area in April 2024 to work for a tech company, after a 9-year stay in Zurich. I was looking for an adventure and wanted to experience something new in the tech center of the world. I wanted to understand how the system works in the tech world via my own eyes and experience. In this series of diaries, I want to share some of my learnings and thoughts along the way, as a naive engineer/researcher who just left the university to take his first job.

I normally read carefully through all contracts before I sign them. For the transfer to the US, there were a bunch of documents. One interesting element in the offer package was an arbitration agreement. This was an interesting document. This document states that once signed, all employment disputes (with some exceptions) are subject to arbitration. Both parties effectively lose the right to a court or jury trial. There was no option to refuse the agreement in the interface, but the document states that employee can sign first then opt out by sending some information to an email. When I signed it, I understood that I can opt out at any time. However, when I revisited it after a while, the optout must be taken within 30 days, otherwise it is not guaranteed that there will be no adverse employment action.

This feels strange to me once I fully understand what’s going on. After all, it is an agreement that waives the employees’ right to resolve disputes in public court. It particularly prevent class action suits, and avoids setting any public precedents, which likely benefit the employer. While the arbitration process is also used in both Switzerland and China, it is often not exclusive, and only serves as a first attempt to resolve employment conflicts economically. One can always go to a formal court after an arbitration in these countries. However, after consulting the internet, it seems that in the US, the term and the practice of mandatory arbitration are widely adopted in employment relationships. It is also interesting to know that California intended to forbid mandatory arbitration in AB 51, but the bill is now permanently barred by a federal court.

The adoption of mandatory arbitration in the US leads to quite a few questions in my mind. The final decision on AB 51 is often regarded a win for employers, and the decision clarifies that “businesses have broader freedom to contract as they see fit [1]”. The ruling seems favors highly the employer, and I do not understand how can this happen. After all, employees rarely get a chance to draft and insert clauses in an employment/arbitration agreement. In my case, I was too sloppy to let the fineprints (only 30 day opt-out without adverse action) split through, because the sentences were constructed in a way that needs to be read several times to comprehend. Good thing is that it does not currently affects me in any way. Practically, this experience teaches me a good lesson on signing US contracts. I will probably need to read the papers more carefully before signing. On the other hand, I can see how many employees can easily sign this, even when it is not really mandatory.

One can interpret this ruling as limiting the governments’ intervention in private contracts, but it can also be seen as the ignorance regarding labor rights. While it may appear pro business, this eventually will be exploited by some businesses to exploit average salary men. The website of department of labor [2] lists some interesting cases where business owners attempt to just do that. I am yet to observe large company’s gain and loss from the arbitration, but seems that there are some interesting cases that I can follow[3]. Hmmm, I forgot I will not have access to arbitration results.

Overall, it seems to be a systematic design on the balance between employers and employees, business freedom and label right, and maybe also silence or shoutout issues at workplace. The vast majority of American legal system seems to prioritize efficiency without a hesitation here.


[1] https://www.conklelaw.com/ab51-californias-law-against-mandatory-employee-arbitration-agreements-is-invalidated
[2] https://blog.dol.gov/2023/03/20/mandatory-arbitration-wont-stop-us-from-enforcing-the-law
[3] https://www.law360.com/employment-authority/articles/1737771/apple-wants-opt-in-workers-ot-claims-sent-to-arbitration