On the road with America's post-homed nomads

Housing costs Americans more than at any time in history, and it's only getting worse as foreclosures open the door to market-cornering by inconceivably vast hedge funds who buy all those "distressed properties" and turn then into bond-coupon factories where the rent ratchets higher and higher, well ahead of inflation, wages, or affordability.

Necessity is the mother of invention. A growing cohort of Americans have abandoned housing altogether, living over the streets (not on them) in a motley assortment of superannuated RVs, refitted vans, trailers, and the back-seats of their cars.

It's not just the pensioned-off, precarious cohort of seniors who drive from Amazon warehouse to Amazon warehouse, filling in during busy periods. The Vandwellers subreddit boasts thousands of contemporary nomads who are trading retrofitting tips and latter-day hobo chalking about which towns have banned Walmart's practice of allowing people to sleep rough in their parking-lots (AKA "Wallydocking").

The nomads are networked and use their online gatherings to organize real-life get-togethers (GTGs, a term from BBS antiquity) where they pass the hat for van repairs, socialize and commiserate.

It's the plot of The Subprimes, Karl Taro Greenfield's 2015 novel, come to life. But that novel was meant to be a warning, not a manual.

Jessica Bruder's new book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, excerpted today on Lithub, traces the rise and rise of the post-housed in America, the necessary invention of a nation where housing has been migrated from a human necessity to an asset class.

Much of the action was happening out West, but get-togethers—also known as GTGs—were also coalescing back East, from Ohio down to Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. When folks caravanned from place to place together like wagon trains of yore, setting and breaking camp along the way, they called it a "roving GTG." In 2011, what became one of the most anticipated gatherings of the year was organized for the first time: The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, or RTR, was inspired in part by the rough-and-ready mountain men of the 19th century, who spent much of the year in hardship and isolation, trapping critters in remote places but reuniting each year at an annual fur-trading rendezvous. Held on public desert land near the town of Quartzsite, Arizona, for two weeks in January, the winter RTR was a chance for nomads to share skills and stories, make friends, and mentor newcomers to the lifestyle. Vandwelling aspirants sometimes showed up with tents or borrowed vans to learn everything they could before hitting the road themselves. The event was free and awareness spread mostly by word of mouth.

For this community, making an effort to gather in person was no trifling thing. Members spend much of the year scattered across the country. Often they lack the gas money to drive long distances in a straight shot. And many consider themselves loners. Among the hermits, blogger RV Sue has cultivated an especially solitary reputation, pleading with her blog readers not to drop in on her campsites unannounced, explaining that "blogging suits me well because I can interact with all kinds of interesting people without having to actually meet them." Some of her fans have written about coming across a familiar 17-foot Casita during their travels—then realizing who that trailer belonged to and immediately hightailing it in the other direction.

Some folks who attend the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous deliberately park on the outermost edge of the camping zone, while others can only handle human company in small doses and stay for a short while rather than the full two weeks. When someone arrived at an RTR session wearing a T-shirt that said "Introverts Unite: We're Here, We're Uncomfortable, and We Want to Go Home," she got smiles and nods of acknowledgment all day.

[Jessica Bruder/Lithub]

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century [Jessica Bruder/WW Norton]

(via Naked Capitalism)