When I was a little kid I loved visiting my grandparents and exploring their house. My grandfather built the place himself and included a tucked away cellar that served as his personal man cave. Keep in mind this was long before people would tag such nooks with a prehistoric metaphor. While the stereotype of cavemen was that of unenlightened Neanderthals hiding from the elements, the modern man cave is more a creation of the craftsman. It is a haven where one can design, develop and create.
My grandfather was a carpenter, landscaper, furniture maker, you name it. Within the dark, cool concrete walls of his basement was a long work area full of tools. On the opposite side was a weight bench and at the deepest end was a hole in the wall where older bikes or scooters were stored.
Grandpa's man cave was creepy, exciting and appealed to both the primal and creative sides of myself. It was a place to hide, to build and escape the world while also preparing for it. After 30 years of living like a nomad with nowhere to call my home, I have finally settled down in Florida. It is here that I found a place to build my own personal getaway. Construction has been 3 years in the making.
When I first arrived in 2010 the downstairs area of our stilt house was a mess. Countless boxes, old furniture, musty books and piles of rotted wood had accumulated into a cobwebbed covered catastrophe. On days off work I would haul out piles upon piles of garbage. Approximately 2 tons worth of rusted junk metal and warped pressed wood found its way to the side of the road.
It was a slow process that involved opening and sorting every single box and separating the good from the spoiled. Among the debris were several cans of paint and a handful of electrical cords, all of which was put to use. After cleaning the inner room from top to bottom, I painted all the exposed wood with at least two coats of white and then started to fill the shelves.
Thrift stores are a blessing here in the sunshine state. Whenever I needed a tool, an old TV, a light or wires, they were all within my very limited budget. The first room was built for less than $30. The toughest part was the amount of physical labor that was needed to clean, paint, move furniture, carry out the clutter and connect devices.
After little more than one hundred hours work, the trophy room is complete. An old DVD player connects to a large TV that can be viewed comfortably on a love seat which backs up against a wide mirror. An array of benches, weights and a stationary bike cover the floor under the reflection of fifty trophies and medals. Dry erase boards with training schedules, race certificates and personal photos fill the walls.
The trophy cave has become my favorite room in the house. I spend hours down there lifting weights and watching episodes of Smallville, LOST or Mountain Bike DVDs. I've added an ancient air conditioning unit that reluctantly works along with a box fan to battle the summer heat.
It amazes me that all of the beauty arranged in this confined space was done with so little money. I'm not a DIY type of person but necessity teaches you how to fix and fasten along the way. Each project carries with it a new level of knowledge that encourages you to try something else. The accumulation of little victories is what builds confidence.
Over the past few months my project has expanded. With the trophy room complete I have moved outside the door and started building a bike garage. The room is three times larger with much greater challenges but it will certainly be worth the effort. This time I took before photos so people will be able to see the difference that a little money and a lot of hard work can produce.
While I didn't follow the path of my Grandpa, he did teach me a lot. As a kid I was hired to dig in the garden or help him with woodworking. The lessons passed into memory and disappeared for many years but I'm discovering that you never really forget. A decade after he had passed away, I'm still learning from him. If he could see the sweat and effort reproducing hints of his craft, I'm sure he would be proud.