Chasing Dreams in a VW Bus

In 1972, Jerry Steimel graduated college, jumped in a VW Beetle with his lifelong friend, and set out to live his dream, a cross-country trip to California. But his VW Bug had other ideas, quickly ending the trip with mechanical breakdown.

Steimel’s dream wasn’t deterred. Forty-five years later, he jumped in another Volkswagen, a 1973 air-cooled van, and set out from his home in Massachusetts for another try, this time solo. But Jerry Steimel hardly traveled alone.

In Chasing Zorba: A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, he is guided by author Nikos Kazantzakis and his book, Report to Greco, whose life lessons begin each chapter. He names his van Zorba after Kazantzakis’ book Zorba the Greek. Steimel’s goal: California. And so much more.

Some call his plan lunacy. But Steimel is out to discover comfort in taking risks rather than living as if he is just waiting to die. He doesn’t hurry, neither in his writing nor his driving, and his literary and physical journeys are a meander. But, in the end, the book rushes up and grabs readers before leaving them with memories anchored in what it means to live life to its fullest.

Steimel goes to great lengths to find places, like the West Virginia site where four high school boys launched rockets and their lives to heights beyond their wildest dreams. It is the site of the film October Sky, which Steimel watched a dozen times. That figures, you see, because Jerry devoted 45 years to social work, lifting kids who needed an extra push.

Steimel weaves places and American history with the people he meets as he drives mostly back roads, having to stop more than now and then to take Zorba to mechanics for adjustments. The journey tests Steimel and Zorba in ways they could never have anticipated.

The author and his VW Bus still miss the turn of the key every morning. And I miss wondering what is around their next turn.

Van Life: Book Answers “Why?” and “How To?”

I congratulate Bob Wells for his practical, approachable book, How to Live in a Car, Van or RV.

At a time when van life is sweeping America as well as other parts of the world, the author presents how-to advice for those who want to live on the road. From where to park to how to install electrical power, Bob Wells’ narrative is straightforward. He covers philosophical and financial issues and van lovers will especially be drawn to the book for its practical information. He discusses life in cars and RVs, but the focus is on van life.

I prefer the comforts of my small travel trailer, but I enjoyed Wells’ story and could relate to many of the issues he covers, except, thankfully, weathering two divorces. He has gained fame through his popular YouTube channel, CheapRVLiving. Wells admits making many mistakes and taking risks he doesn’t recommend during his years living in vans.

In the past year or so, I have read three other books with the living-in-a-vehicle theme. Here are links to two of my reviews:

Walden on Wheels, by Ken Ilgunas; and Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. I did not review Living in an RV, by Alyssa Padgett, but I recommend all three books as well as Bob Wells’ offering, which was published in 2012.

Nomadland: Read the Book, See the Movie

If you haven’t read Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century, I urge you to read it before seeing the film.

Director ChloĆ© Zhao’s acclaimed adaptation of the non-fiction book is due for theatrical release in February. No word yet on where it will be streaming. It has swept awards at several film festivals and is creating Oscars buzz. Frances McDormand plays a woman in her 60s who loses everything in the Great Recession, then travels the West in her van, working various jobs.

Click here to see my review. One of my favorite books of the year.

Nomadland: Moving Tales of Survival

In an era of expensive tiny homes, giant motor homes, and slide-outs that extend from every side of RVs, an American subculture on wheels follows good weather and seasonal work, out of necessity. The itinerants live in rustic, converted vans and RVs of all sizes, moving from campground to campground. Luxurious RVs may surround their modest homes, but they represent a life that couldn’t be farther away.

As camp hosts, they clean bathrooms and quiet rowdy campers. They work in Amazon warehouses and fill orders from an America unaware how much effort (and injury) go into millions of deliveries. Some move their rigs from street to street, hoping to avoid attention and eviction.

New York Times journalist Jessica Bruder drives Halen, her camper van, for part of a three-year journey as she follows a lifestyle that is invisible to many. In Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century, she tells the story of Linda, who supplements her small Social Security check and dreams of one day owning land and a modest home. Like others chronicled in Nomadland, Linda’s story will tug at your heart and keep you turning the pages of this compelling book.