I WAS A CITIFIED GUY when I first saw Quartzsite, Arizona during a coast-to-coast trip. I had needed to fill my tank and drain my bladder. “What a dump!” I thought in my best Bette Davis voice. It didn’t help that it was July and a hundred-bazillion degrees.

Since becoming a van dweller, I’ve been in Quartzsite and other small towns like it many times. Heck, I’ve spent weeks there at a time. My perspective has changed. Because I spend so much time away from civilization, any wide spot in the road with gas and groceries is a beautiful oasis. If it has several gas stations, a couple of grocery stores, some chain stores, a few fast food joints, a laundromat, a mechanic or two, a bank, a post office, a medical clinic, and a library it might as well be a major metropolitan area.

Cities have become resource centers for me rather than places to live. I measure them by what I can get there before moving on. I judge them for their utility. Aesthetics and livability don’t matter much anymore. Any “dump” where I can get a dozen eggs, toilet paper and a quart of oil is Heaven City as far as I’m concerned.

Before discovering van dwelling, I’d been researching places I might like to live out my retirement years. All the stuff on my checklist kept me from finding the perfect town. I mean, if you’re going to plant yourself somewhere—possibly your last somewhere—you want all your criteria satisfied, right? Then I realized I didn’t need to anchor myself. I could go from place to place, enjoying what they had to offer. Sometimes it might be only a tank of gas and a restroom. Ah, civilization.

And, really, I need to applaud the folks who’ve kept these little places going. It’s not easy. The system favors big boxes in big cities with big customer bases. These are the villages Walmart won’t touch. Or they’re formerly thriving towns that were descimated when Walmart set up shop in the next county. Hurray for the shopkeepers of Smalltown, America!