Monday, March 27, 2023



It’s almost time for Quartzsite and the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Bob Wells is not your typical RVer. But actually, that depends on who you ask. To the free-range nomads that attend his Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite in the winter, his rendezvous rally, which they call The Real Burning Man, consists of an assortment of nomads driving converted delivery trucks, Roadtreks, vintage RVs, “skoolies” and the odd Prius, a few thousand altogether that gather in defiance of consumerist society, writes Penelope Green for the New York Times.

Also typical attendees are the owners of “Road Virus,” a 32-foot-long matte black “skoolie” that is the rolling home and bookstore of Emily Black, 35, a former librarian and an alumna of a Bay Area tech start-up, and Sade Black, 27, a musician and writer. From it, the couple sells horror, science fiction, erotica and other so-called fringe lit. For the last month, they have been parked in front of Reader’s Oasis Books, an idiosyncratically stocked emporium presided over by Paul Winer, a sinewy former rock ’n’ roller otherwise known as the naked bookseller because he wears only a sock over his private parts.

The Blacks are new members of a sprawling and disparate tribe of vehicular nomads that flock to this dusty desert town each winter. They come for the boondocking on the thousands of acres of federal land that are adjacent to the place, and for the community, particularly that found at a two-week-long rally called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Bob Wells, Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Organized by Bob Wells, a 62-year-old van-dwelling evangelist who has been living on the road for over two decades, the RTR drew just 45 people when it began in 2010. This year, Mr. Wells said, rangers estimated the crowd at over 3,000. Often called a Burning Man for retirees, the RTR is starting to skew younger, at least by anecdotal measures.

Committed nomads come to share tips on solar power, stealth overnights in parking spots on city streets, van conversion, mail, hygiene, finances and low-cost dental care, which can be found over the border in the Mexican town of Los Algodones, an hour and a half away. Aspirational nomads come to test the waters, in rented mini-Winnies and camper vans. And they come to meet Mr. Wells, a celebrity here. With his abundant gray hair, lustrous beard and mellifluous voice, he is an amiable philosopher-elder of the road.

Radical simplicity is his credo. From his YouTube channel, Cheaprvliving, which has over 120,000 subscribers, and his website of the same name, he dispenses practical advice such as how to live on $500 a month (Mr. Wells has a pension from his years at Safeway), or tips for camping with pets, along with musings on the psychological and environmental benefits of road life.

Read more and see more pics. (The next RTR is scheduled for January 9-20, 2019. The Women’s RTR will be January 4-8, 2019.)




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4 years ago

I agree with above. Wife and I planned for our retirement and as we reached our 60 her parents got sick and a few yrs befor I was to retire they RIF me and several others who were getting there. I was able to get another job but not at the same salary. Life does happen.

We are both retired and doing ok.

George Sears
4 years ago

It’s curious how the simplicity and basic decency of Mr. Wells is now in such sharp contrast with the low quality of higher end RV’s, and the curious practices of RV dealers. I gave up on the RV industry 18 months ago. The last straw was dealing with Camping World at their lot in Quartzsite. Kind of a creepy experience, for me. And then I looked at my basic travel trailer and decided it was not worth owning. The quality issues, the John Hebard issues, are hard to dismiss.

One of the options is a van. A van can be a daily driver, especially a small van. With insulation, clever use of spaces, solar and lithium batteries, heated bedding, folding furniture, it’s actually been a lot of fun and very educational. I didn’t follow Mr. Wells, but he was a significant resource, a source of ideas.

Wells is an iconic figure and a genuinely decent guy, from what I know. I lived in a camper in 1994. There is more information and much more community now. Vanlife is a fascinating part of American life, not withstanding the Florida bomber.

I would think people who are active in the RV Industry, including the RV YouTube people, would want to attend the RTR. A lot of people with YT/RV channels get asked if they will attend the RTR. To me, too many seem to duck the question.

Thanks for the article.

Peggy Coffey
4 years ago

I have seen his youtube vids and while some of these people are actively choosing this type of lifestyle, some of stories are heartbreaking. Living on $500 a month and living in my car is not what I wanted to do when I retired. Why are so many people not planning for retirement? Did they not expect to grow old? I understand life happens, but depending on the tiny Social Security pension is crazy. Husband and I planned for years, raised three kids, and took care of our parents in our home and still retired in our mid 50’s and are fulltiming comfortably.
Pooping in a bucket?!?

4 years ago
Reply to  Peggy Coffey

Some people don’t have a good paying job, a house, a car, or an education. In the U.S., all of these things cost a lot of money. The minimum wage hasn’t increased in almost 10 years so how are people supposed to get ahead?

People and/or family members get sick. Cancer isn’t cheap and can consume your life’s savings. Some sell their homes to help a family member survive terminal illnesses.

Others are just unlucky. The U.S. educational system doesn’t include finance, savings, and budgeting. It’s a consumer economy that dictates buying lots and lots of expensive but depreciable products such as cars, boats, high-end electronics.

How many people retired right before economic downturns and their assets were worth little to nothing. There are lots of variables in this soup and thanks to people like Bob Wells these rvers have some hope.

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