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What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?

In contrast, walking by a female car-camper makes me feel rather good. She is a talented musician and a dog lover -- she might have four or five of them in her tent and jeep.  She is always doing something. I have talked to her a couple times when her dogs came out to say hello to mine, as we biked by.

Perhaps the contrast comes from the vibrations she gives off that seem to say she only does this seasonally, and it makes no practical sense to buy a regular RV for a short stint in the desert.

At first, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Four dogs. What do they use for common sense?" But the more accustomed to her I became, the more it seemed like she was offering an authentic, anthropological performance that befits the human female. I like to think of people as a type of wildlife. 

Previously I had complained that I couldn't see any positive role for female campers. Most of them seem not only useless, but to be outright liabilities. In contrast, this woman was doing what they have always done: staying busy with three things at once, providing existence, survival, comfort, security, and pleasure to the other creatures in her life.


  1. Was that female car-camper in a Toyota FJ? If so I think I know who you have met. The one I know was a blogger but has shut it down. I have read the blogs of a couple others that were also car-campers but not with four dogs. HA

    1. No, not her.

      But I am curious whether this woman sleeps in the tent, or do the dogs?

  2. You, for one, have been affected by this man vicariously. It is an interesting observe other people but remember we are prone to project all sorts of judgments into the situation.
    This is a good post. It is a curious thing how people are....yes, we are wildlife. Much like other animals hiding in the bush checking out a situation from afar and deciding if one wants to enter or skedaddle. Self-preservation is at the core of many of our decisions. A very powerful and highly successful instinct, so deeply embedded that we don't even know it's driving our thoughts and the feelings that arise deep within our musculature. Thought follows; it does not lead.
    Yes, the friendly woman who nurtures her dogs looks safer. But who knows? Would make a good piece of fiction to create a situation and see who is willing and able to come to your protection and defense. It could be a big surprise.

    Really nice post.


    1. Yes, we do project our assumptions onto other people. I was aware of that at the time. Perhaps that is why I like to think of people as wildlife -- my judgments take a backseat to mere observation and a certain pleasure.

  3. I've been thinking about this lately as I've encountered quite a few people living out of their car/pickup this past month at New Mexico state parks. Why do I consider them homeless and not me? I conclude that it has to do with intent. Are they living this way by choice (willingly; happily; wouldn't choose any other lifestyle at this time)? Or are they acting out of hopelessness, despair, without a choice in the matter—perhaps even drug/alcohol addicts hitting bottom? The latter are homeless, the former are not.

    I think there's also the matter of self-sufficiency. That is, how much of a "home" is their vehicle/RV? The woman who parked behind me in a Honda Civic packed to the ceiling with all her worldly possessions and who needed to run her engine to keep warm in below-freezing temperatures last night? Clearly "homeless" both because of lack of intent and of self-sufficiency. That one's easy. Many are not so clear.

    1. But you are only seeing "sissy" car campers in a state park! They just have to take a short walk to a flush toilet and hot shower.

      Agree with your "intent" and "self-sufficiency" theory.

    2. I'm kinda happy that they avail themselves of the showers, all things considered... But yeah, Real Men dig a cat hole in the cactus patch and let their sweat sluice the grime away. ;)

      Interesting article on the "mobile homeless" at Doheny State Beach, CA:

      The supervisor ranger estimates that one third are "bad news". One guy who had been coming there in a RV for three years shot his live-in daughter and stuffed her in his freezer.

  4. Now that you have told the story, your faithful readers want to know who is in that car and what his circumstances are. My vicarious judgement would be he is perhaps unstable or maybe just sad about his current life. When there is so much to experience in the desert, I can't imagine sitting in the car all day. Would you please check him out for us?


    1. His drama really could be interesting, but I don't have the guts. Besides that, I have seen these guys act like bullies: they enjoy scaring other people.


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