Nomadland Thoughts

5/24/2021- Cloudy, Misty Monday & I welcome the Rain.

As I finished reading Nomadland by Jessica Bruder last night, encouraged to hasten my reading pace by notice of an ending Libby loan, a few things came to mind from my past and also with regard to my future. Concerned as she is with the modern reversal of retirement security and with the working poor shouldering the onus of most of the economic risk taken by a corporate oligarchy today, I felt my heart lift and sink alternately as she detailed many experiences and reflections with which I was personally familiar from my 2 month Van dwelling adventure in Maui back in 2015. As I read about the hordes of dispossessed 50-70 somethings roaming the desert wilderness in search of warmth and community, low wage slaves to unscrupulous Land Management concessionaires and Amazon shipping facilities, I empathized with their plight in search for a safe place to park their lives. 

Changing my once-in-a-lifetime travel plans in the fall of 2015 to begin from Maui rather than Thailand for what I hoped would be a period of world travel for which I had saved years, I found myself unhoused in days by the misrepresentations of my oldest friend in Portland, who had not plausibly confirmed my stay with her landlord. My only other acquaintance on the island offered a filthy 2002 Chevy Astro Van in which he had camped irregularly around the island. I had to gut and sterilize the interior before moving in with the help of my girlfriend who had arrived a couple of days before to celebrate her birthday with me on the island. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having everyone at the laundromat watching you withdraw the contents of your vehicle in the parking lot; sweep roaches, rats, their feces and so much trash out of your living space as others stare on in amazement and judgment…with your honey in tow.

There were few legal and safe places to camp on the island. I found myself moving constantly for ice, water, food; trying to blend in, cultivating stories to explain my lack of local address, maintaining the camouflage of a well maintained vehicle, mindful of the predatory innuendo attached to my white van. As Bruder reaffirms, In America, if you don’t have an address, you’re not a real person. Multiple encounters with the police, ominous road wanderers, and tacit dismissal by wealthy tourists occupying the same beaches all reminded me that, “When people think you’re homeless, you start to feel homeless.” Although my gal rose above the situation with a kindness that allowed us to bond even more closely in the moment, I could not deny the disquiet I felt when she left, now left to my own to enjoy what I could of my unintended Van Dwelling experience. A bittersweet time indeed, I found peace briefly in Haleakala and the rare surf session, but little elsewhere during my stay on an island turned amusement park for the rich only.

As I consider my future as a disabled, now middle-aged man still suffering from spinal disfunction & chronic pain that has limited my earning capacity for all of my adult life & most particularly in light of the stark picture of the continued rapid decline of any income parity in the American economy, I see a great likelihood of my return to mobile life, and perhaps not so far off in the future with COVID economic dislocation and Trump’s strategized polarization of American society into Haves and Have Nots. Stephen Jay Gould’s quote form the novel stays with me, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Without even delving into the acceleration of hardship wrought by human induced Climate change, I consider all of the economic misfortunes blamed repeatedly upon the victims as the world burns. I’ll continue in my poverty to embrace minimalism, rejection of consumer culture and, most importantly, the Hope of the Road, fostered simply by the exciting intimations of forward momentum. 

Thank you Jessica and All those interviewed.

From Silvianne’s rendition of Roger Miller’s classic in the novel…

Old beat-up high-top van,

Like livin’ in a large tin can,

No rent, no rules, no man,

I ain’t tied to no plot of land.

I’ve got cool forests for summer fun,

Winterin’ in the Desert sun,

I’m an old gypsy soul with new goals,

Queen of the Road!

My friends still think I’m insane,

But for me their life is way too tame,

If I sometimes sing the blues,

Small price for the life I choose.

I’ve found all space is hollowed ground,

If we will but look around,

In our sacred search for the New Earth,

Queens of the Road!

….And you can pick up Nomadland to read the rest!

Sunset from the back of the Van at Baldwin Beach: One of the Better Days

Published by Theron W. Wells III

Voiceover Artist and Actor. Southern Drawl and Infectious Grin. Portland, Oregon.

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