Slightly Off Center: Homeless or Home Free?

By Dennis Hinkamp

There’s a van and a small camper that keep popping up in various parking lots around town. I won’t describe them in more detail because I don’t want to impinge on their joie de camp. I only notice them because I have had a lifelong love of recreational vehicles. They are probably stealth camping; something I used to do frequently when I was younger and braver.

This is how it works: You park in the lot of a 24-hour business or a dense neighborhood street and sleep there. If you don’t out yourself by covering your windows or turning on interior lights, nobody is quite sure if you are in there, out shopping or visiting someone in a nearby house. Most Walmarts actually encourage people to park overnight in their lots. I have availed myself of these free hardscape campsites when driving across Nevada. What you lose in scenery you make up with convenient shopping for anything you forgot to bring. If you are lucky, no truckers are running their engines all night right next to you.

I have a feeling the stealth campers I see around Logan aren’t doing it as a vacation or part of youthful wanderlust, but rather because they have to. There is a whole subculture of people out there that I wouldn’t have known about had I not read Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (Jessica Bruder). The people I see in these lots are RVing via some mix of choice and necessity. You can classify them as homeless or home-free. You could look at them as living the dream of a tiny home like all the cool kids.

The differentiating factor is choice. I ate three-for-a-dollar pot pies in college because I knew there was something better on the horizon. Some of the new fulltime RV tenants are doing so because it beats low-income housing and a permanent fast food job. Many of them travel the country as a new migrant worker class that toils seasonally as campground hosts and Amazon warehouse Christmas rush slaves. Cruise around Facebook and you will find legions of them communicating about how they are getting by on a different American dream.

I cannot judge them for this. I have been a part-time RVer for about 35 years starting with my first 1967 money-pit Volkswagen camper van, followed by eight other variations including a classic Airstream, a couple Toyota chassis anachronisms, some horrible thing with a French Renault engine (money pit 2), a VW Eurovan, Sportsmobile (money pit 3), another nondescript trailer and the current truck bed pop up. If you are keeping track, my winning percentage is only slightly over .500. Freedom is seldom free. If I were brave enough to do the accounting I probably would discover that I could have flown first class, rented a car and stayed at Marriott hotels on all those trips for what I have spent on RVs. However, if you are going to throw logic like pasta against a wall, it will not stick. As Bruce Springsteen so eloquently growled… one, two, three, four!

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines Sprung from cages out on highway nine, Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap We gotta get out while we’re young ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run And, well, maybe not so young; your mileage will vary, a lot.

Dennis Hinkamp is currently here, but planning his next RV trip.

This article was originally published on April 1, 2018.