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April 14, 2021

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Icon book review: Nomadland

Where positive thinking is an all-American coping mechanism

Reviewed by Robert McCool
Nomadland (W.W.North, ISBN978-0-393-24931-6) has all that a non-fiction book should have: the what, the who, the when, and most importantly, the why. It is a handbook on “Surviving America In The Twenty-First Century” as it states in its sub-title.

First off, it's a book about a growing subculture here in America, one that carries its home around on its back around the country and settles in no place for long. They refer to themselves as “rubber tramps” because they live on the open road with far-flung destinations.

Made up of seniors and the dispossessed youth and working class, they travel from one itinerant job to the next, and head south in winter to escape the cold of the north desert and snow bound forests that freeze up water systems in their portable homes and force them to have some kind of supplemental heating to survive. Driving RVs, converted vans, cars, and some living in tents, they move north again in summer to take temporary jobs and escape the season's summer heat.

This is happening right now, in our time, and it's growing every year.

Lastly, it's happening for more and more low and middle class because of “the economy is a game” mindset, the loss of income and housing, and uncertain sustainability of the consumer society. Author Jessica Bruder writes in 2017 that “there is no refuge for the low-income renters” in her second book.

Take Jessica's protagonist Linda May, whom she spends two and a half years following through jobs and her dream of building an “Earthship”, a self-sustaining house built of used tires packed with dirt.

And most of those jobs she travels to are not for the faint of heart. Amazon in particular hires supplemental personnel from the seniors who gather and park in Amazon's extensive and seasonal “workcampers” lot,  calling themselves “Amazombies” after the ten and sometimes twelve hour days spent lifting, picking orders, tracing goods with a  hand-scanner, climbing and descending endless staircases and squatting many times during their work hours.

Even cleaning toilets at campgrounds is preferable to damaging your wrist with one of Amazon's heavy hand-scanners. On top of it all Amazon collects a federal tax credit equal to 25% to 40% of wages paid to this group of hard working people.

But there are good times too. There is an annual meeting in Quartzsite, Arizona called “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous” where you can catch up with old and new friends living in this improvised tribe.

There you can meet  the campworking guru Bob Wells and learn how to”Wallydock” overnight in a Walmart parking lot, how to utilize solar-panels into your electrical system, or fix many of the common problems inherit with an older camper. Bob also has a internet site called “cheaprvliving.com” where he offers advice and solutions for the “van-dwellers”. He is a priceless resource for those on the go.

But why is this happening in today's America. Is this “the new reality of retirees”? Well, the crash of 2008 had a lot to do with it, and further catastrophic events with the economy only worsened the situation.    

A lot of people lost their savings in the crash, and many jobs were lost in that disaster and following events. Businesses failed. Faced with the loss of all they worked for, many could no longer afford a “sticks and bricks” house. The lucky ones were not homeless, rather they are the “houseless”.

The drift of unequal wages only amplify the inequality between “those who have and those who do not” grows everyday. Did you know that America is the most unequal in wages of all developed states. Russia, China, Argentina, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are all more equal in incomes than us.

And now this tome is a award-winning movie starring Frances McDormand, an award winning actor. I look forward to seeing if it is as good as the book.

As stated in “Nomadland,” “positive thinking is an all-American coping mechanism.” That is the lesson in this grand adventure; this being an introduction to simpler living with less.