Van Tarot On The Go



Van frontGrabbing a slice one night in San Francisco, I noticed a van parked in front of Arinell’s Pizza on Valencia Street, doors open wide. “Tarot by Donation” a homemade sign beckoned. Twinklinking lights, a Labyrinth era David Bowie poster and a woman sitting next to a tiny table peered out of a handpainted Dodge, adorned “Orbis Alius” on it’s hood. I wanted to find out more! Interview by Beth May 2017.


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Name, age, where do you live?

Mercy Vanaman, 36, Oakland. 


How’d you get the nickname Mercy Cat?

I’ve always been Mercy, but back in the early 2000’s, my cat Freya lived in my Caravan with me. To keep things simple, I just said call me Cat. Then it grew into Mercy Cat. 


Mercy Cat's Van


What kind of van do you have and how long have you had it?

This is my fourth van over 15 years. This is the best. I’ve had my 1975 Dodge b300 for almost 4 years now.


Does your van have a name?

Orbis Alius. It’s Celtic for the faery world, which is just like this world but only a few can see it.


Quote]So how long have you been doing tarot readings out of your van? Where and when did it start?

I was 18 working for an alternative book distributor and publishing company, now deceased, called Bookpeople. One day I decided I wanted cards so I wandered to all 70 decks we carried. I didn’t actually prefer the Scapini deck at first, it was a bit garish, and kinda still is. Almost 20 years later, it still speaks to me though. Crazy Italian Gypsy throws out all the traditional tarot rules and bases one on historical events on the premise that people repeat themselves. When Bookpeople closed it’s doors, I looked around, realized I had a van and a deck of cards, and headed to SF to seek my fortune. 


Readings by Mercy CatWhat are the best spots for business and how often do you do it?

I perform in Mission, Castro, and North Beach nearly every weekend, depending on the weather. Anywhere with a late night coffee shop and happy crowds. I stopped for a few years, but it’s been about 15 total.


How’s business in general? What’s the average tip?

I don’t think there’s an average. Good magick is by donation. Some people have nothing but need a reading so I just ask them to do something nice for someone, which has turned out beautifully. Then there are people who are quite generous and balance everything out. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to do what I do. I haven’t had a zero day yet though.


Mercy Cat readsAny good stories from doing readings?

So very many! Mostly I say San Francisco needs someone to talk to. No matter how rich or poor one might be. I try to inspire where I can. I think it’s along the lines of therapy, and I’m not always accurate, but usually my advice is sound. Create more than you destroy. The world is way bigger than you imagine. Don’t be a dick. I’m not sure I have just one story, and I’m not sure I can take as much credit as I’ve been given. But people have decided against suicide, gotten off addictions, introduced me to their new partners or babies, shared their creations, their own vans, how beautiful they’ve grown up. As I always say, you make your own future and if a deck of cards has more power than you, you’re fucked anyway. It is always quite the honor to inspire people though. (: 


Do you have a 9-5 brick and mortar job?

When I am not my glamorous gypsy self, I work as a freelance maid and repairman. Even with several jobs, talent, and friends, it’s nearly impossible to make it in the bay area. I’d probably leave, but I can’t afford that either. 
Van frontDo you know any other vanners?

Very few. Most have moved on. I see them in some of the places I camp, but I’m not too eager to introduce myself as a single lady in a van. I carry weapons and keep my head down. I recommend other van dwellers do as well, unfortunately. I think it’s rather hypocritical of me to be so judgemental, I’m a nice, clean, bad drug free, van person. It’s just hard to take the risk.


If you could have your dream van, skys the limit, what would it be?

Likely still my Orbis, but with a sun deck on top, a wood burning stove, and bloody air conditioning! And if I’m going for broke, power steering would be awesome. Though I like my She-Rah arms. 
What tunes do you like to crank when driving your van?

I like all kinds of music and still own an iPod and a ridiculous amount of music. On bouncy sunny days, I like Mickey Avalon and Brooke Candy, what can I say, they’re wicked. At the beach I like De-Phazzz and Grace Jones. Always and forever though is David Bowie and the glam rock era he created. Labyrinth forever. 

What are your favorite place(s) to take your van?
The ocean. As often as possible. Anywhere, any weather, it’s all about the water.


quoteFord, Chevy or Dodge?

Ass, gas or grass?

Gas is nice. My baby ain’t cheap. Ass and grass are plentiful. 
Any other comments for DON’T COME KNOCKIN’?
Thank you for your lovely site. I’ve been cruising in vans one way or another my entire life. A lot of people assume I’m a criminal, hence why I feel terrible judging, so some good press on this independent and free lifestyle is exquisite. Not all of us are bad crazy. 


PICTURED ABOVE: Mercy and her van outside of Arninell’s Pizza on Valencia Street in San Francisco.




Don’t Come Knockin’