Recently, everyone in my house took up playing Pokemon Go. We'd all stopped, after a burst of interest when the game came out, but my partner convinced us all to start up again, in order to get the kid to go on walks with him. I can't resist a good walk, so of course I had to start, too, and then once we were talking about it the rest of the house got dragged in (and now play obsessively). Anyway, yesterday I was hitting up the poke stops in the parking lot of the church across the street from us, and a van drove by.
It was an older van, boxy, probably a Ford from the mid 90s. It had dented fenders, and had been amateurishly painted a dark, dark blue, but was as clean as such a van could be expected to be. Each square window had tidy navy blue curtains pulled closed over them, except the rear windows, which were tinted deep black. The engine was loud and ragged, and other than the local license plates I didn't see any stickers or identifying markings.
The van drove past and out of sight, and under the yellow streetlights I didn't see the driver. Living on the West coast, though, I know how to tell when someone is living in their vehicle. There are a lot of folks on the streets of my city who are 'boondocking,' or living out of a vehicle and parking in (semi)public lots at night. And of course I've lived in my own vehicle, although at the time I didn't really think of myself as homeless so much as a traveler without a fixed address.
The travelers in NOMADLAND tend to think of themselves the same way. Like I was, of course, they are actually homeless. No matter how expensive the vehicle, a vehicle isn't a home. It depreciates in value instead of building equity, and boondocking is getting less and less safe--the cops are getting more and more aggressive, and so are homeowners.
My only complaint with the book is how out of date it already feels. There's nothing here about #vanlife influencers, or the housing crisis. There's nothing here about the tent I passed on the bike path the other day with a cardboard sign posted outside that said, "YES we live here. We have nothing to trade. We have a five-year-old. Please leave us alone." If you're reading this for answers to how to house the people who are being left behind, you'll only find hints in the descriptions of the work these folks do for companies that treat them like trash.
But it made me feel strangely nostalgic. Bruder captures the strangeness of feeling free and surveilled at the same time, the fierce joy of self-sufficiency and the fear of living on the edge of hunger and cold and carbon monoxide poisoning. Homelessness isn't all bad. Maybe understanding that is a kind of answer.