<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> History and Social Aspects of RVers and RVing
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



Topic: Sociology of Full Time RVers

Presenter: David Counts

What makes "retirees" give up community, friends, family and the resultant security and become a full-timer? On a camping trip in 1978, David Counts and his wife, Dorothy, social anthropologists, encountered a new (to them) "culture" -- that of the full time RVer. Dorothy explained the situation thus: "We were tenting with two dogs two kids and two of their friends. We must have been the best show in town, because we were followed for a couple of nights by two "elderly" persons. When we go to know them, we discovered they were fulltimers -- a heretofor unknown phrase to us. A situation demanding exploration.

The Counts interviewed full-timers by going into RV parks and knocking on doors. When someone answered, they asked, "are you a full timer?" They found many persons who were delighted to be interviewed, who wanted to portray themselves as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, not misfits from traditional communities. Rvers are considered examples of what is called "Zen Affluence"-- they do not measure affluence by how much money one has, but in the richness of relationships.

Once derisively titled "tramp army", RVers now encompass a wide variety of people, people who use their rigs as inexpensive housing as they move from place to place, as well as those who use work as a way of getting money to finance their travels. Younger RVers, a rapidly increasing segment of this society, include those who have been downsized from their jobs, and feel that they should "do it now" -- there may be no pension when they retire. They have taken severance pay and gone on the road.

But must communities be rooted in place? Full timers feel they have more freedom and more of a sense of community than they had when they lived in a typical house in a settled community. Why? After World War ll, there was a flight from settled city communities to the suburbs; those who could move, did so. In the suburbs, they found a greater sense of isolation than had existed in city neighborhoods. In a typical suburb, sidewalks, when they occur at all, are set at a great distance from the houses, perhaps separated by a sea of lawn. The side of the house facing the street, is "closed" -- garage and front doors shut, windows shuttered, with the activity of the inhabitants concentrated in the side of the house, away from passers-by. There are no front porches, unless designed by the architect, and they are seldom used. Families are isolated from their neighbors, and often barely know them. When they entertain, they invite people inside their homes, or in the back area away from the street. In the cities, people used to sit on their front porches, talking to their neighbors as they passed along the sidewalk, but this situation is seldom possible in the suburbs.

The situation in RV parks can be compared to that of the old neighborhoods. When someone camps in an RV park, he settles his rig and puts out his awning -- his porch. Often he will then take out chairs and prepare to meet his neighbors. RVs (houses) are closer together, re-creating the situation of the city neighborhood. People tend to travel where they can be comfortable and outside, which makes it easier to meet their neighbors, and in the process they form a community.

In an RV park, you can leave whenever you want. If tensions arise you can find another park. You can help out a neighbor without being committed forever. Since this sense of freedom exists, helping hands are often proffered. One story is told of the woman whose husband suddenly died. One of her RV neighbors offered to drive her rig for her, while she flew home. "Don't worry, we'll get it back for you".

Home based parks, those where you buy a lot to park your rig on, create a different situation. Gone is the sense of complete freedom. Rules, made with an eye to the overall investment, can cause problems. For example, one such park's rules stated that the settings had to be natural. No potted plants!

RVers sense of community is reflected by the role of the potluck. Sharing something of yourself, something you have made, is much different from the dinner party, where one person is completely responsible for the food, and often takes great pride in its presentation.

There are some rules, albeit unwritten, even in the fulltiming community. The Counts visited several famous RVing campsites while they were doing research for their book ,"Over the Next Hill". Slab City, near Niland, CA on the shores of the Salton Sea, is an area revisited yearly by hundreds of RVers. It consists of cement slabs left from WW II construction, and little else. The people of Niland have arranged to provide the campers with water and an occasional visit from the "Honey Wagon" but other than that, the RVers are on their own. They have some distinct rules in this "City". Some of the blocks are known to belong to individuals -- beware of a site which has had something added to it -- even if only an individual paint job on the surrounding rocks-- if the newcomer attempts to stay there he may be told "Joe camps here, please find another spot." Often whole blocks belong to a particular group.

The Imperial Valley contains a lot of truck farms, and some of the RVers have worked out arrangements with neighboring farms to glean produce after it has been harvested. Often, a pickup will arrive loaded with one sort of produce for everyone to share. There is no need of repayment in kind. But if you stay long enough at the Slabs, you should eventually reciprocate.

Full time RVers go on the road to travel. They stay on the road because they have the freedom to find a sense of community. There are no firm statistics on how many fulltimers there are, but their numbers are increasing.

I spent a fascinating 90 minutes listening to David Counts. I got so intrigued with his theories that when I started to write about his lecture, I found myself trying to add things, ideas that had occurred to me when I thought about serious RVers and their reasons for going, and staying, on the road. If you have an opportunity to attend any lecture given by him or his wife Dorothy, you will be in for a thought provoking experience.