“Life on the Road, and in a Walmart Parking Lot,” by Jessica Bruder:
“People who never imagined being nomads are hitting the road. They’re giving up traditional houses and apartments to live in what some call ‘wheel estate’—vans, secondhand RVs, school buses, pickup campers, travel trailers, and plain old sedans. They are driving away from the impossible choices that face what used to be the middle class. Decisions like:
“Would you rather have food or dental work? Pay your mortgage or your electric bill? Make a car payment or buy medicine? Cover rent or student loans? Purchase warm clothes or gas for your commute?
“For many the answer seemed radical at first.
“You can’t give yourself a raise, but what about cutting your biggest expense? Trading a stick–and–brick domicile for life on wheels?
“Some call them ‘homeless.’ The new nomads reject that label. Equipped with both shelter and transportation, they’ve adopted a different word. They refer to themselves, quite simply, as ‘houseless.’
“From a distance, many of them could be mistaken for carefree retired RVers. On occasions when they treat themselves to a movie or dinner at a restaurant, they blend with the crowd. In mind-set and appearance, they are largely middle class. They wash their clothes at Laundromats and join fitness clubs to use the showers. Many took to the road after their savings were obliterated by the Great Recession. To keep their gas tanks and bellies full, they work long hours at hard, physical jobs. In a time of flat wages and rising housing costs, they have unshackled themselves from rent and mortgages as a way to get by. They are surviving America.
“But for them—as for anyone—survival isn’t enough. So what began as a last-ditch effort has become a battle cry for something greater. Being human means yearning for more than subsistence. As much as food or shelter, we require hope.
“And there is hope on the road. It’s a by-product of forward momentum. A sense of opportunity, as wide as the country itself. A bone-deep conviction that something better will come. It’s just ahead, in the next town, the next gig, the next chance encounter with a stranger.
“As it happens, some of those strangers are nomads, too. When they meet—online, or at a job, or camping way off the grid—tribes begin to form. There’s a common understanding, a kinship. When someone’s van breaks down, they pass the hat. There’s a contagious feeling: Something big is happening. The country is changing rapidly, the old structures crumbling away, and they’re at the epicenter of something new. Around a shared campfire, in the middle of the night, it can feel like a glimpse of utopia.”