IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN TO A GATHERING OF NOMADS you know there are always people who need a little help with something. A repair, an addition, a modification, some troubleshooting, just an extra pair of hands…
It was at such a gathering that some people who wish to remain nameless saw the need for a get-together dedicated to working on rigs. People with knowledge, skills and tools volunteering to help those with needs. Post a date and location on social media and let the good things happen. The result is VanAid, held in Quartzsite AZ because a lot of the nomadic tribe gathers in the area each winter.
I spoke with this year’s reluctant non-leader. He says he’s not in charge, that he’s just there to answer questions and point folks to the listings of helpers and those who need help. It’s sort of a cooperative anarchy of self-directed people. “I didn’t really want to serve in this position, but it needed to be done and I can see the benefit. This isn’t about me. It’s about people helping people.”
He continued, “The mission of this is to help people have a better life as a nomad, by enhancing their living environment and making them safer, more economical and more comfortable. Safer by making sure the electrical systems and mechanicals are sound. More economical by wasting less of their social security or other income on professional labor, or things like fuel because they have now a solar system that provides everything. And comfortable by creating an environment in the small rig that can give them proper rest and make them feel at home.
“Oh, and to strengthen the community. You are a worthwhile person, you deserve some help. Somebody has your back. The interaction that people get because somebody’s helping them makes them feel better about themselves. And so psychologically, it’s also good for everybody to not only get help but also to help people.”
I spoke with Mark, who was building a swing-out table for a woman who travels in a Camry and tent.
“My partner and I have been on the road for since June of ’21. She was a nurse and worked through COVID, and I was in the hospital supply chain. So over the past four or five years we’ve been planning to retire and get on the road. The past couple of years in our life was kind of the push to get us to do it.
“We were at Skooliepalloza when we heard about this (VanAid). We’ve been here, I think about a week, and I’ve done little projects. One of them was a guy with a basic van. He couldn’t open the side door from the outside but he could open it from the inside. So we were able to fix that up. It was mainly a screw that came loose in the mechanism.
“A lady in a minivan had components in the overhead console she didn’t need anymore. They were kind of in the way. So we took some of those out to give her more headroom. We also got her windshield washer working and figured out how to get her dome lights to come on.
“These little things have been world-changing for them. It’s been really gratifying to do this.”
But people don’t need just mechanical and electrical assistance. Amy, Cheryl and Sheila offer sewing services. Amy did most of the talking.
“I’ve been full-time on the road almost five years. I’ve been sewing most of my life. Tried to make a living at it when I lived in a sticks and bricks. It failed. I’ve done this for two years. I did the van build with Jamie Dimon a number of years until it shut down.
“Everybody needs something special sewn. Each curtain is separate because of their rig. Each project repair is different, like, ‘This is my favorite jacket. I’ve had it for 20 years. Can you fix the zipper?’
“We’re here because we want to help people. Everybody’s got a gift. Mine happens to be sewing. My mom gifted me this machine. I’m running off solar today. I’ll probably have to run the generator by the end of the day.”
“And these ladies are working away, too. Cheryl’s doing a lot of the prep work and getting things ready, pinned it up so we can just run it through the machine. Sheila’s got that adorable little sewing machine she working with.
“So, you know, we all do what we can, and this happens to be my thing. If I can help somebody to make their life a little easier, I’m glad to do it a little bit prettier.
“So far we’ve done a few mattresses pads for beds. Because our beds aren’t normal size, right? You have to remake their mattress cover too. It needs a cover because the foam is going to tear apart.
“And lots of people buy the curtains to fit and then find out that sun comes through the corners. Maybe we just add a little bit on the endpoint, make it a little bit to the sides or bottom, just make them work for people. We’ve also been repairing straps on a lot of things.
“Some people will come along and say they’re not using these drapes anymore and we take the material because it’ll be used somewhere, right?” So I donated some pillow cases I was no longer using.
There are some at VanAid whose needs are even more basic: food. Davina — a veteran and cancer surviver — is helping with that. She serves a basic breakfast and makes sandwiches for the workers. “It’s tough for people out on the road. I know that. And if your rig is being worked on, and you can’t prepare meals in there for a while, we got you covered.”
But Davina isn’t doing this singlehanded. “There’s people who are seeing what we’re doing and they’re bringing over their own pot of, you know, one pot dishes, for our five o’clock meal. We serve here at five until it’s gone.”
“I’m in year two of doing this (nomading) part time. So I decided after retiring from nursing. Bob Wells has been such an inspiration.
“I love the the community that is being created here. I love it, love it, love it. And I want to see more of it. I see more events like this where we’re helping each other as nomads. And I hope this catches on. I’ll come next year and I’ll do it again just because it was so great to meet so many neat, folks, all over the country and Canada. Excellent. Yeah. So that’s why I’m here and what I’m doing, and so excited.”
The reluctant non-leader said, “I can see the benefit of events like this from the people that HOWA has helped in their van builds. I witnessed that twice in Pahrump, in the spring and fall of last year.”
Compared to the few dozen nomads HOWA is able to serve annually, there were approximately 200 (divided between helpers and those needing help) at this year’s VanAid. Imagine all the good that could be done if similar events were held in various places around the continent. But it can be far simpler than mass gatherings. Whenever you meet another nomad, one of your first questions could be, “Do you need anything?”