I will never, ever look at a recreational vehicle, van, motor home, or campground the same way again. Not since reading Jessica Bruder’s engrossing, informative, and heartbreaking new book entitled Nomadland. I have long imagined, envied, and eagerly anticipated my chance at plodding the highways and byways of North America in a recreational vehicle with no schedule, no deadlines, and no cares. But, her book has pulled the wool from my eyes to reveal what is truly happening to a significant segment of the population in our society.
Sure there are retired wanderers crisscrossing the nation, but in more recent years they have been joined along the byways by a growing nomadic tribe of less fortunate folks who are simply trying to eek out a living by “workamping” and “vandwelling” from place to place throughout the year. These economic migrants, often due to no fault of their own, see residing on the road as their last vestige of maintaining control and personal pride amidst an increasingly dystopian economic situation that rewards only the rich, the dishonest, and the damn lucky. To many of them, the so-called American dream is but a cruel hoax perpetrated on us all.
Nor will I ever feel the same excitement when a package (including this book) arrives from Amazon. For many of these same folks are working long, tiresome, backbreaking temporary labor in massive warehouses to assure our compulsive consumerism thrives for yet another quarterly report to shareholders.
In America, many millions are but one paycheck, one illness, one job loss, one missed payment, or one divorce away from becoming an unfortunate and potentially morbid statistic. While some are driven into homelessness, others, such as those documented in Ms. Bruder’s amazing book, turn to their motor vehicles for hope and economic salvation. Instead of becoming “homeless,” they chose to become “houseless,” by living in their car, van, RV, motor home, or similar vehicle.
I was impressed how the subjects of this book were able to maintain their sense humor through the despair. Aside from being a coping mechanism, it also led to some funny and ‘punny’ nicknames for the van dwellings described in Nomadland. Nicknames like “The Squeeze Inn,” “Van Go,” “Vanna White,” and “Van Halen” made me chuckle while riding the book.
Steibeck’s The Grapes of Wrath documented the hardships of the Depression-era through his eloquent fiction describing the Joad family legacy from Oklahoma to California. Today, Ms. Bruder has skillfully articulated the 21st Century financial distress and suffering facing a group of fellow citizens who live on the razor’s edge of basic survival.
Some may brag and boast about our nation like it’s a modern-day Utopia, when honest-to-goodness reality is that the United States has largely turned its back on the needy, including these unfortunate folks. The thing is, they don’t want our pity. All they want are the so-called opportunities that are constantly being preached at us via the propaganda machine in DC, the media, and elsewhere.
Perhaps Green Day summarizes the suffering best in their song, Boulevard of Broken Dreams
There are so many amazing stories and quotes in Nomadland that it would be impossible to list them here, but a few snippets are important to give you a mental image of the book.
“The last free places in America is a parking lot.” Page xiv
“This is a whole band of housing refugees.” Quote from vandweller Bob Apperley on Page 56
“This place is freaking crazy [Addicted to Deals]. It is like a college dorm room and an abandoned Kmart had a forbidden lovechild, painted it Pepto-Bismol pink, and gave it a phrase for a name.” Page 120
[Quartzsite, Arizona] “one of America’s most bizarre and seriously demented places.” Page 125
“I’ve encountered nothing in 15,000 miles of travel that disgusted and appalled me so much as this American addiction to make-believe.” Quote from author James Rorty on Page 164.
“For many nomads I met, missing teeth were the badge of poverty of which they were most ashamed. It’s sad but not surprising that teeth have become a status symbol in a country where more than one in three citizens lack dental coverage.” Page 174
“Is this the evolution of the former middle class? Are we seeing the emergence of a modern hunter-gatherer class?” Quote from vandweller Kat Valentino on Page 176
“The sharing economy — the step-on-the-back-of-the-little-people economy’s arrived.” Quote by vandweller Peter Fox on Page 217.
“After all, millions of Americans are wrestling with the impossibility of a traditional middle-class existence. In homes across the country, kitchen tables are strewn with unpaid bills…These indignities underscore a larger question. when do impossible choices start to tear people — a society — apart?” Pages 246-247
Better yet, I strongly and whole-heartedly recommend reading Nomadland. It is a watershed literary effort that will certainly stand the test of time and serve as a testament of whether Americans opened their eyes to reality or preferred to let the American dream remain nothing more than an empty platitude. Remember folks, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
Here are some resources on workamping and vandwelling from the internet: