The internet unites them; unfriendly police target them; employers exploit them. Today’s retirees-on-the-road travel in vans, campers and repurposed cars, motivated by a new kind of freedom that often comes at a heavy cost. Take a fascinating look into this darker side of the U.S. economy in the wake of the Great Recession in the powerfully personal road trip, Nomadland.
Linda May, a single grandmother well into her 60s, took to the road—in a camper so small she called it “Squeeze Inn”—to free herself from many things: rent she could no longer afford, utility bills she could no longer pay, her daughter’s couch where she tried to sleep and the disappointing job search. But she had a plan, and journalist Jessica Bruder followed her across the country to report on what happened.
As a younger generation recovers from the Great Recession, their elders have often been left behind, with foreclosed houses and vanished retirement investments. Their lifelong pursuit of the American dream has become a wake-up call: time to try something else. “Houseless” but not homeless, they seek temporary work across the country, as seasonal camp hosts at remote parks, sugar beet harvesters and shift workers at huge Amazon warehouses. Pay is minimal, their health is often precarious, the work is arduous, and conditions are hazardous. Many gather annually at a “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous” site near Quartzsite, Arizona, to share and learn from each other before hitting the road again. Family has become “vanily.”
Linda May’s plan was to work, save and buy land in an area remote enough for solitude but accessible to family and friends. Bruder follows in her own van (“Halen”), writing with a fine eye for details and a nonjudgmental pen, as May works hard to create her new way of life—or, rather, to recreate the unflappable pioneer spirit that got this country going in the first place.