Thursday, April 11, 2019

Hardcover: "Nomadland" by Jessica Bruder

Hardcover: Nomadland: surviving America in the twenty-first century by Jessica Bruder, 2017, 9780393249316.

Journalist Bruder does deep reporting on van, car, and RV dwelling people.

The book is interesting and a bit depressing. Bruder is writing about decent people who work hard but were dunked on by the 2008 depression. They are an itinerant workforce of people 55-years-old and up. People who were financially stable until they lost their retirement funds when the market collapsed and then went under on their mortgages when the real estate market collapsed.

Many people were already just getting by before 2008. Then economic layoffs hit and older people with plenty of experience were unable to land a paying gig. An illness would toss them out of work and leave them in more debt.

Bruder researched this for a few years and got to be friends with several people. She focuses on Linda May and her journey from having to live with a adult daughter's family to buying a used van to live in. Linda works as a camp host at different state and federal parks and forests. The work is physically difficult and when tallying the long hours versus pay she finds she only makes 2-3 bucks an hour.

On the off-season Linda joins many other van dwellers van dwellers who find work as WorkAmpers. The work is often described as "Have Fun! Make Friends! Get Paid to vacation!" The slogan is, of course, bullshit. Bruder tags along to one of the many Amazon warehouses around the country. The pickers and stockers will walk 10 miles a day up and down concrete floors to fill orders. They work 10 or 12 hour shifts, head back to the RV park, eat some ibuprofen, and hope they don't freeze overnight in an uninsulated vehicle.

Homeless is what they are but not what they will talk about. Bruder writes about people who are forcefully engaging in a 'nomadic lifestyle' and proclaiming the freedoms of no rent, no mortgage, no utility bills. They do have to worry about using Social Security and part-time jobs to pay for engine and transmission repairs. They do have to stretch every day to buy food. Homelessness is the "H word" and fervently denied.

Bruder seems to have done plenty of reading and research on the topic for both the current and historical trends of itinerant people. She writes about the rail riding phenomenon (my paternal grandfather included) of the Great Depression and how many other people took to the road.  A commenter from the 1930s remarked how poor Americans embrace the open road and a positive attitude but don't acknowledge they've been screwed over. Reminds me of the This is Fine 'meme'.

Because of the internet the nomads are a fairly well organized group. Linda and others are inspired by blogs and online discussions to stop couch surfing and buy RVs.  I tried looking up a few of the people who had an online presence. I gave up after I could not find a couple. One woman had started and quit a few blogs and - at her last writing - had settled down somewhere.

Besides, isn't having your own space - even if something as small as a Prius - preferable to couch surfing, scrabbling for rent, and living out of suitcase? You're certainly free to follow work wherever it takes you. Cutting out rent is cheaper than the regular car repairs. There is privacy of a sort - as long as people aren't knocking on your windows and trying to peer inside.

As the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary."

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