We live in a camper trailer, and it is illegal. I’ve made no secret of that. However, in my mind, illegal and wrong are two different things. And I have a hard time seeing the sin in subsisting simply.
I’ve sought to understand the arguments against this way of life and why living lightly is deemed a danger to my community and myself. Some residents don’t like my ilk because we lower property values. That is a viewpoint I cannot argue against… except to say that putting perceived potential profits ahead of a person’s basic need for shelter is abhorrent. I’ll leave it at that.
Another argument for forcibly removing us from our trailers is that it is for our own good. The living conditions are deemed unsafe. And many see us trailer-dwellers as aluminum-armored parasites on wheels, sucking off the community’s services and largesse without paying our fair share in taxes.
The newly proffered answer to the trailer problem – to save the impoverished and save the community – is Cinema Court, the affordable housing complex on Mill Creek Drive. It’s tidy and sound and easy on the eyes. It offers safe harbor to many in need. However, some trailer dwellers are indifferent to its amenities, much to the consternation of government officials seeking to eradicate the “blight” of mobile abodes from our town’s landscape.
Why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to abandon this drafty, cramped, rodent-friendly metal box – with its fickle plumbing and foul holding tanks – for a real apartment that doesn’t require me to chop wood and carry water to survive? Why wouldn’t I thrill at the notion of space enough for guests and cooking and uninterrupted writing?
The reasons are uncomplicated and multitudinous.
Let me first explain that Tyler and I are not stupid. We are both college educated and well read, sound of mind and heart. We do not live on wheels because we are uninformed about our alternatives. We choose this life – amongst all our other options – daily. We actively embrace it, quirks, curses and all.
Every time we drive by Cinema Court, we play an imagination game, mentally Tetrising our lives inside those red walls. The game always falters under the weight of our nonconforming reality: garden and dog, chickens, chipper and chainsaws, water truck, woodpile, workshop. Just when we think we’ve creatively stacked it all together, I place the prayer flags on top and the whole idea crumbles into absurdity. And so we drive on.
Strangely, this sprawling life of ours is possible because of our tiny trailer and the freedoms it allows.
We’ve cohabitated in this bit of silver-plated paradise for three years now. We pay nominal rent for use of the property we sit on, tendered both in cash and sweat equity. Inexpensively living here has allowed us to start up two businesses and acquire the equipment necessary for their success. We are a part of the local economy, not apart from it. We buy books from Andy, beer from Frankie, breakfast from Julie, tires from Chip. And living here has allowed me to continue writing, lending my voice to the community dialogue.
While permanently camping, we’ve never relied on government assistance. We heat with wood, and our arborist business provides us plenty. Instead of using food stamps, we hunt, care for chickens, and tend a sizable garden. This summer, with the growing season just half over, I’ve put up over 100 jeweled jars of food – jam, fruit, pickles, peppers, salsa. We are self-reliant.
And living in the Streamline has allowed us to save up money. We now have enough for a sizable down payment on a wheel-less home. That was our goal. Living in a trailer has always been an adventurous and creative means to an end, never an end in itself. We are in the midst of negotiating the terms of our new home, and we will acquire it without dipping into federal funding.
Is this a portrait of disadvantage, danger or dysfunction? Where are the dark brushstrokes of illegitimacy, and who paints them? Would we be better off in government-subsidized affordable housing? Has our still life in travel trailer done anything to hurt this community?
I don’t believe we are an exception as trailer dwellers. Rather, amidst Moab’s tribe of cultural creatives, I think we are the rule. We are a group that places more value in independence and ingenuity than the abstractions of real estate values and conventional structures.
Tyler and I are fortunate. We are seeing our trailer tenure through to a happy ending. Many of our compatriots in camper living are not as lucky. Many have been evicted, relegated to an uncertain interim of couch surfing and grasping at brittle financial straws. Many have been made homeless by a government supposedly looking out for their best interests.
Seeing my face on the street, reading these words in our paper, exchanging services and smiles as we do in this small town, do you believe that I detract from Moab’s value? That I threaten your investment here? I believe a true community is made up of people – like me, like you – not property.
Community is not based on speculative worth but a deep sense of connection and home. And sometimes home is little more than hope on wheels, motionless, yet traveling toward a self-made future.
ByBy Jen Jackson