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Van-life mantra: ‘Tune out, drive off’

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These days, the LSD-driven urge of another age to “turn on, tune in, drop out” is being replaced, to a significant degree, by the sound of transmissions shifting into gear and the refrain “tune out, turn on, drive off.” Many of today’s RVers are the new hippies.

Fortune magazine earlier this month ran a somewhat whiny article under the headline, “Van-life is just ‘glorified homelessness,’ says a 33-year-old woman who tried the nomadic lifestyle and ended up broke.” The photo that topped this angst-filled account is reproduced above, and as anyone who knows anything about RVing will tell you, that ain’t no van; it’s a small class C motorhome.

A trivial point? Perhaps. But it illustrates the bigger problem of mainstream publications writing about subjects they don’t really understand. It’s not just that the reporter and her editors don’t know the difference between one kind of RV and another—a difference, for example, that might confuse a reader about the story subject’s complaints about being unable to cook or wash-up while on the road—but that their ignorance perpetuates certain stereotypes. See all those RVs rolling down the road? Just glorified homelessness, they’re saying. Bums on wheels. Vagabonds.

To be fair, that’s not entirely incorrect—but it is enormously skewed. Fortune‘s story reminds me of the Sixties and mainstream media’s coverage of the counterculture, which emphasized sex, drugs and rock-and-roll and largely skated by the deeper philosophical, political and cultural rift that was opening up in American society. Sometimes it seemed like an entire generation was being dismissed as either a dopey, long-haired bunch of hedonistic parasites or as an addle-brained cadre of brainwashed Marxists fantasizing about overthrowing the system. Both were readily found, but there was so much more going on, with so much more meaningful commentary about U.S. society that wasn’t nearly as sensational.

“Tune out, turn on, drive off”

These days, the LSD-driven urge to “turn on, tune in, drop out” is being replaced, to a significant degree, by the sound of engaging ignition keys and the refrain “tune out, turn on, drive off.” Untold hundreds of thousands of Americans have piled into everything from rattle-trap conversion vans to skoolies to homemade teardrop trailers—as well as $200,000 class B “vans” and 40-foot motorcoaches—in search of, well, something: new vistas, new adventures, the freedom of the open road, movement itself. Or sometimes they’re just fleeing from rather than running to, be it cold winters or an accumulated burden of too much stuff or just a sense of staleness.

In that sense, the new nomads are not too dissimilar from the psychedelic voyagers of 60 years ago. Viewed from a different perspective, however, today’s voyagers are reacting to—are resisting—a greatly more circumscribed world. The Sixties were a time of social wealth and endless possibilities; the Twenties are an age of growing impoverishment and diminishing horizons. Hitting the road means fleeing the crime and economic privation so many people fear will claim them as their next victims, of getting out from under the oppressive reach of the government (“the man,” again) with its mask mandates and high taxes. The cultural rift threatens to be even wider than it was those many decades ago, leaving us all with no one to rely on other than ourselves. What better way to do that than in the seemingly self-contained little world of an RV?

Self-delusional

It’s all self-delusional, of course. Taking a trip, be it to the land inside of your mind or to a boondocking site on BLM land, can last only so long before reality intrudes. Acid trips wear off. Road trips require state-maintained byways and highways, not to mention gas stations and replacement tires. And just as some acid-trippers crashed and burned, so too some modern-day nomads will discover they’re not really equipped for this new adventure on which they’ve embarked. They’ll have a bad trip. Bummer.

The mistake Fortune made, with its simplistic glomming onto a counter-narrative to demonstrate its supposed ability to look beneath the surface of a growing cultural phenomenon, was to stop there. It’s as though it were reporting on the excesses of Haight-Ashbury as a way of dismissing a huge cultural paradigm shift without saying, Whoa! What’s actually going on here? What are these people saying about cultural expectations, the disintegration of authority, the relationship between individuals and their society?

The growing tide of today’s nomads represents a new critique of today’s society that might become just as disruptive as were those other voyagers of 60 years ago. Picking at the fringes of this phenomenon without digging past the gotcha headlines not only demonstrates a lack of insight and understanding—as evidenced by that non sequitur of a picture—but creates a false impression that we are now better informed.

Nope.

 PREVIOUSLY FROM ANDY… 

Indianapolis newspaper report blasts RV manufacturing industry

Okay, class. Today we have a pop quiz—but don’t panic! There’s only one question, and the answer is multiple-choice, so you have at least a 25% chance of getting it right: What do you get when an industry pressures an inadequately staffed and poorly trained workforce into increasing output by almost 50%? Continue reading.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through bookstores or at Amazon.com.

##RVT1076

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Mike
1 month ago

Sometimes, when the ‘media’ attempts to provide an accurate article on a subject, the research and understanding necessary to perform that function appears to be missing! Most often it appears to be necessary to view a ‘subject specific’ publication to have in depth reporting. And sometimes, I’m rather skeptical that that is the case.
YMMV

Michael Thomas Lloyd
1 month ago

Obviously written by someone who’s lived through the 1960s! I see many of the same patterns and objectives too (I am in my mid-60s and remember the era and the reaction of my parents and church to such). From an even broader perspective, what’s going on today seems more about having options to exercise and new things to try which are out of the mainstream, like the counter-culture of the 60s. And how did all that turn out? Well, those hippies are now CEOs, board members and Fortune 500 leaders. So that gives me hope at what lies ahead, as new experiences help shape problem solving and goal setting skills, both necessary to succeed in a world which requires more sophistication to live in with each passing year.

Larry
1 month ago

Actually, some of us are old hippies, still trying to adjust. (Nod to the Bellamy Brothers)

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry

Hi, Larry. I use the term “leftover hippies.” (I’m 76. 😯 ) Have a great day. 😀 –Diane

John the Road Again
1 month ago

When the media covers a topic that you are very familiar with in such a way, how can you assume they cover topics for which you are not as familiar any better?

All too often, pieces like this are written with a pre-conceived narrative and any further research done is just for material to reinforce what they’ve already decided to write.

Ozzie
1 month ago

One of the more thought provoking articles I’ve read on this forum. A lot of which I agree with and also quite a bit of “I don’t think so.” You can count me in the group who both remember the days of summer of love and the long hard drive to retirement. Sitting outside with a beer and some music (not loud), enjoying the warm sun and watching life go on around me is my idea of living. The freedom of not having a real schedule is my reason for my “escape”, and seeing what’s over the next hill keeps me moving. At this point in life I’m all about the KISS principle.

Virginia
1 month ago

Most of my hippie friends CHOSE that lifestyle. Too many of todays vagabonds are forced into the lifestyle. Big difference.

UPRIG
1 month ago

Well said, Man… Power to the People…💥🥳🌞

Michael Thomas Lloyd
1 month ago
Reply to  UPRIG

Well said!

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

The more things change . . .

Ron T.
1 month ago

So where did all those hippies go? I suspect a great many of them eventually put in a full career in agriculture, industry, business, etc. just like those of us who sort of envied them in the 60s but just couldn’t pull the trigger and leave our more comfortable lifestyles. Nowadays they just might be in that RV next to yours revisiting their youth so to speak.

Virginia
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron T.

Good point!

Ozzie
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron T.

Howdy neighbor!

Margaret
1 month ago

Great job, Andy. Cheap headlines are destructive and divisive. It’s always best to top, look deeper and reflect.

Tony
1 month ago

Great allegory Andy. I grew up and have lived in an area where hippies flocked in the 1960’s and 70’s. Most are great people, who were just looking for “something else”. The majority who survived the alternative lifestyle ended up eventually adjusting to a somewhat mainstream life, working in the retail or timber industry, or starting small businesses.

Since childhood when my parents would grumble about the influx of the “long hairs”, which of course had an impact on my early perspective. In my adult years I have developed many deep friendships with those who are drawn to my hometown for different reasons than my own.

Now that I’m retired and wandering around the country four or five months a year, I better understand why people would want to choose alternatives to long days at the office wearing uncomfortable clothes or beating their bodies up doing blue collar labor. I now tend to use the term hippie as a compliment to those who have simply chosen a path different than mine.

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