How Real Americans Are Living The ‘Nomadland’ Life


For four decades, Jean Hardwick had a good and stable career, health and life insurance, and a home in Sarasota, Florida that he owned and loved. Then in 2015, a catastrophe struck. After a near-fatal reaction to a prescription drug, Hardwick, now 60, underwent heart surgery, suffered seizures and faced more than $ 500,000 in medical bills.

“There is government assistance, but it is loaded with Catch-22,” Hardwick said. “They say, ‘We can’t help you because you own a home, so give us a call when the property is no longer in your name.’ Applying for a disability takes about two years. In the meantime, he sells furniture and clothes to make ends meet. “While Hardwick was finally on the road to recovery, he lost his home. After his disability payments began to come in, he decided to make a change and start living a life. nomad, driving from temporary job and place to place. “In December 2019, I was lucky to find an older motorhome [a van equipped as a traveling home] and I sold or gave everything away, “he explained. Hardwick is not downcast about his new life. She says she sees it more as “processing, figuring out how to move forward, trying to find silver lights.” Who lives in Nomadland in America Hardwick is just one of many Americans over 60 who – when faced with mounting debt and exorbitant home prices – have decided to pack it all up. In his truck or small motorhome, that is, doing odd jobs on the road and living in “Nomadland,” which is the name of the acclaimed new movie starring award-winning actress Frances McDormand who is now playing on Hulu and in theaters. “Nomadland” is a fictional story based on real-life people featured in journalist Jessica Bruder’s best-selling book of the same name. (Next Avenue’s Richard Eisenberg wrote about the book in his 2017 article, “The Rough Lives of Older Americans in ‘Nomadland'”). The Golden Globe-nominated film follows a middle-aged woman named Fern (played by McDormand) who, like Hardwick, faces extreme financial challenges. Fern is a rural widow who loses her job at the US Gypsum factory in Empire, Nev., And chooses to live in her truck, working short-term jobs as a temp worker at an Amazon warehouse and as a hostess in a trailer park. of a camp. “Nomadland”, written and directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao (the first woman to receive the Palm Springs International Film Festival Director of the Year award), features true nomads Linda May “Swankie” and Bob Wells, creator from the popular YouTube channel CheapRVLiving. They are all over 60 years old. Twenty years ago, Wells, a former grocery store worker, was also forced to live in a van, following a divorce that left him with little money to pay rent and other expenses. “I walked past a business with a big green truck for sale and I thought, ‘I could live in that and then I wouldn’t have to pay the rent and I could keep my own money,'” Wells said. See also: All the ways older people mismanage their money and how to avoid them At first, Wells said, he felt like a failure and that life in the van was a blow to his self-esteem. But, he noted, things changed when he changed his mind. “I just acted like I was going camping,” Wells said. “I adjusted and started to feel very comfortable. Plus, I was saving a thousand dollars a month by not paying the rent. “Wells also found freedom as a nomad.” Our society and our values ​​are all oriented towards things, money, power and prestige, “he said.” When you live in a van, you don’t have any of that. But I also had more time to spend with my family and it was quiet. ”In“ Nomadland, ”which was filmed in real camps set up by real nomads, Fern faces the stigma of her own life by van. A former neighbor comes up to him and says he heard that Fern was homeless. “I’m not a homeless man, I’m homeless,” Fern responds. More: Drug prices are rising faster than people do older people can sustain Wells believes that the country’s current economic struggles will force more boomers to join him along the way. “Particularly women in their 60s and 70s who were told to stay home and raise children. children and they would be bi in. Then the husband died or they got divorced and the wife’s Social Security is not enough to pay the rent, ”she says. To research his book “Nomadland,” Bruder spent three revealing years learning about this subset of RV and van travelers who are working campers. “It was a whole world that I knew nothing about,” he says. Bruder released his reports by emailing someone at a trailer park who introduced him to other people who lived and worked on the road. That’s where he met Linda May, who appears in the movie. “I also heard about a gentleman who had been vice president of research and development for McDonald’s global, who lost everything in the [2008] accident and other people who had minimum or low wage jobs for most of their lives and found themselves living on the road, ”he recalls. Bruder, like Wells, fears the pandemic-driven economy will lead more Americans to nomadic lives. “Now you have this huge wave of unemployment and people who are not going to be able to pay their rent,” he says. “The scale of the situation is unprecedented.” The multi-layered look of the film ‘Nomadland’ Although the film brings to light the difficult financial struggles of older nomads in the United States, Zhao presents Fern’s struggles in a delicate and strong way. In an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, Zhao said that he wanted Fern “to be a guide so that he can lead us into this vast and really rich world of nomadic life. What I have learned is that you have to anchor the audience in the intimate experience of a person, so that they feel comfortable being able to experience everything else without getting lost. So that’s always the plan from the beginning to find that balance. “Don’t Miss: Retirement Income Security for All (RISE) Raises Many Questions – Fern’s portrayal of McDormand has earned her a host of awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nomination for lead actress. “Fern had a very prescribed set of rules for living in an empire and once she hits the road, the possibilities open up and her sense of self-reliance is put to the test, “McDormand said at the Toronto International Film Festival.” I think we really hoped that the audience would not care about her, but just get excited about the possibilities of her seeing things to come. around the next corner. “Describing Fern’s journey, McDormand also said,” I personally think she was always a true nomad at heart and then when she finally left, it took a little time to discover who he really is. And I think hopefully when you see the movie at the end, you say, ‘Oh, she belongs on the road. It will not be easy. But that’s where she finds herself. It feels like home there ”. Lisa Iannucci is the founder of The Virgin Traveler, a travel blog for those who finally have the opportunity to travel. She is also a contributor to Travel Pulse ( and writes about film festivals for She is the author of “The Travel Guide for Film and Television Lovers” and “Road Trip: A Travel Guide for Sports Lovers”. This article has been reprinted with permission from, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved. More from Next Avenue: