the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
Field Notes: November 25th, 2017 - Denver, CO
In hindsight I realized that all the work I'd been doing had been fieldwork, but up until this point I thought that this was where it would start. What really starts is negotiating confidences. How do I convey the experience, which specifically revolves around people, authentically, without offering descriptions and opinions which they might consider negative? How do I use facts like "older" when I know that this is not how they would self-identify? And, that while that word creates a narrative image, I also know it is loaded with meaning and prejudice. This is especially problematic as I publish these notes 'raw' and they have not been filtered. An argument could be made that this is why field notes shouldn't be published...
Found the Tribe
Now the work begins! And happily I’m finding my enthusiasm again. Still fighting a bit of a cough and the sniffles, but the warmer weather I found in southern Arizona, in Ehrenberg where we are camped, is helping. 89 degrees for Thanksgiving Day and high 80s through Tuesday.
I made it here around noon on Thanksgiving and was warmly welcomed. Potluck and campfire that night for everyone to meet. Everyone had gathered just a few days prior and although some people traveled together it, most were solo like myself and it has been pleasing to find everyone has gelled pretty well. So well you wouldn’t know we hadn’t all known each other. After the first few minutes I didn’t feel like a stranger at all. Three women in vans have already come and gone - one came to the potluck, the other two, who came in two days in succession were “rattled” from the road and begged off the evening festivities, then left the next morning. The original woman went up north where it would be cooler for a few days. It’s hard in the heat - without hookups no one is running a/c except “Jimindenver” who has over 1100 watts of solar on his set up.
I have found my rig is fine - I open the roof vents, turned around my cab window inserts [the dreaded reflectix] so the shiny side is out and reflects much of the heat, put down the awnings and with my solar can run my fan and still have enough to charge my electronics. We stay in the shade and it’s tolerable for the furkids (I’ve stayed in here with them to ensure it isn’t bad). Freyja prefers to be outside in the shade where the ground is cool. A breeze has come through the windows as well and Shillelagh left her cabinet long enough to check that out in the hottest part of the day. Her cabinet is on the north side. Normally you want to park so your fridge is on that side, but the awning seems to be doing the job.
I’ve also met “grannyjo”. She’s an older woman with disabilities traveling in a van with her dog. In quotes - meaning these are the names they use on the CheapRVLiving Forum. Anna is another newbie - she’s in a brand new sprinter coachman. She doesn’t have a pet but there have been glimpses of a stray afghan wolfhound out at night and she’s determined to adopt it if it comes in and lets her.
I gave myself Thanksgiving and the next day off just to relax and socialize and become a member of the tribe. Settle and figure things out. I told both Joyce (grannyjo) and Anna what I’m doing and they think it’s great.
So I need to start thinking about a routine. I feel like mornings will be “coffee” outside of grannyjo’s van, and evenings will be potlucks. So I’ll need to do fieldnotes in the wee hours (I do like to get up early) and catch time during the day time. I’ve noted, though, that activities do take up the day too - often it’s just socializing, but the guys all want to help - whether like me, a bike lock key was forgotten, or like Anna, even on her brand new coach the solar panels aren’t producing. The woman that left this morning said she couldn’t figure out how to hook up her solar panels so Jim and I were going to help her today but she left this morning….without saying anything so…
I’m finding out though that people often come and go - it seems to be the nature of this nomad/tribal living. Some offer up their plans, some don’t.
And gender wise, the folks out here seem to agree that it’s a 50-50 split and that this is “new”. While men have been living this lifestyle for 10-20-30 years, they agree that all the women they’ve met on the road, the longest seems to be 3 years. I really suspect Bob Well’s videos/channel/forums have introduced women to this lifestyle.
So far in this group most of us are older - early 50s’s is not the youngest. Marisa, a Native American woman is 38 - but then it tends to be mid-50s up to late 70s.
Our current group:
Anna is 54, retired early from a government job and has a new financed rig. Divorced, kids off and grown.
Joyce/GrannyJo is late 60s (I believe from her comments) and disabled. Travels in what looks like an 80s van with a dog [Tippy]. She has trouble walking and is doing this until she can’t.
Jim/JiminDenver has a progressive nerve disease (i believe from comments) but hasn’t filed for disability. He was a businessman I believe is living off of investments/savings. Talks about how he just doesn’t want to be considered disabled. He is a hit at the RTR and gives talks on how to set up solar, get cheap and free internet on the road, and solar oven cooking - our Thanksgiving potluck was turkey, ham, yams, cornbread, stuffing, rolls, corn, cake and pies - most of which was cooked in his collection of ovens.
Dave - oldest man [in our group] I think, in an old Tioga class C. He often plays his 70s rock and with his handlebar white mustache I think of as a hippie. He has talked about his concussions, but not sure if he draws disability.
C[...] - not sure his story yet, but know he was a Chrysler/Dodge mechanic for 30 years and tried to help pick my bike lock (without success). I know he has heart problems. He apparently has the pot (which while isn’t widely partaken of is acknowledged as being available) and often passes around a jar of maraschino cherries or peaches that have been soaked in something like everclear.
“Other” Dave - travels in his car (an suv) with his deceased wife’s service dog, “Comet”, and has hand injuries along with heart problems - but apparently since being on the road has lost about a hundred pounds and quit most of his medications.
Marcia - native american woman has an older truck pulling a vintage trailer and sounds like she gets some sort of monthly stipend/social security. Many talk about waiting til the first of the month (when that social security or disability comes in) but I get the feeling she’s probably more on the edge than most.
Charles and Louella - came over for the potluck in a Toyota Class C painted with murals of trees and such. Both older - I would say 70s. They like others that plan to go to the RTR are parked here, but not necessarily with this group.
Rick - not sure his story - he’s with Charles, Louella and Marcia. Maybe in his 60s? He has a car and has run people around and lets GrannyJo borrow to make a trash run.
Everyone expects to see more people, and that this group (subgroup?) here will grow - especially now that the van build is over (another YouTuber “celebrity” had a 3 week van build where people can show up and get help getting their rigs sorted out in Lake Havasu north of here). The rule is you can only stay on BLM land 14 days before you have to move at least 25 miles away. And since the RTR is 14 days most people come over here to Ehrenberg where the BLM rule is in effect, but not enforced, and then go over to Quartzsite for the RTR.
In the meantime Ehrenberg and nearby Blythe have the resources - dumps, gas, propane, water, showers, grocery, dollar stores, and hardware. I have researched vets - not pleased with the reviews, but there is one in Blythe I could use in an emergency. Freyja seems to have aged years in just these weeks. Still have pain meds but I expect I will need to get them refilled. More choices in Yuma - an hour south.
So, apparently snakes haven’t been spotted but the holes around here are for “trap” spiders and they can be fatal to a dog. GrannyJo has been stuffing rocks in the holes around her camp. There are also tarantulas but they tend to be nonagressive. A coyote has been spotted and some have said that a pack will send in one to camps where dogs are loose to “play” and “lure” out a domestic dog, taking it back to the camp where it will become prey. So while dogs are let off leash, we all keep a watchful eye on them and leash at hand. I’m finding Freyja has been good and prefers to stay around people (and the potential for food) so far. She’s learning camp etiquette, like I am.
As far as that goes - some folks camp close, others prefer a little privacy. Some way out, some in the main camp group - but with 50-75 yards in between. When you approach someone’s “camp” you call out when you get within 30 feet - “hello in camp” or something like “hello GrannyJo”. That way if they are bathing or on the toilet (especially in vans - privacy is important) you give them a chance to respond. They may say, just a minute, or come out, or not respond. In the latter case you leave. Come back later.
I’m watching and seeing that public areas are being formed (the shade behind Jim’s trailer where potlucks are held) or by the fire pit nearby. Or granny jo’s van - she sits out in the morning and puts out about four chairs. Always has water boiling and offers tea and coffee. Dave also has set up for shade and the “guys” often congregate there.
Today I want to start doing some mapping as well as starting to take some photos - then as others join I can see how they park and how it fills up.
There are also ATVers here for the holiday weekend. They have caused issues going through camp - several don’t slow down so the guys have been putting big rocks on the trail to force them to. Others are quite respectful. You get the idea that this is a favorite with locals and us showing up and setting up camp has put a bee in some bonnets.
Right now - potluck tonight. Need to make a dish (veggie pasta salad) before it gets to warm and will be uncomfortable to boil the pasta.
These field notes, while essentially raw, are an edited version. While I have tried to leave them intact in order to offer my project visitors an authentic peek into the process of creating an ethnography, as well as my own emotions concurrent with the experience, at times I have needed to remove or modify information to protect my relationships, or my informant's privacy. Grammar and spelling is only modified when necessary for readability, I've designated omissions with [...], and sometimes will add hover notes for clarification. Please see methodology for more information.