Caravan Culture (1)


I may have finally discovered paradise on wheels. That’s her, pictured above and below. A 1979 product of Mirage Motorhomes Inc. She comes with a kitchenette (sink, stove, oven), a half-bath with telephone showerhead, solar panels, a swamp cooler, 29,000 miles, 20 mpg, and a cozy, unbeatably gemütlich interior of orange formica, plaid, and wood paneling— plus she sleeps four semi-comfortably. Mom, dad, look at your eldest now: a home owner. She currently sits parked, with me living inside, on a property under renovation here in Highland Park, Los Angeles, the Arroyo Seco and buzzing 110 only blocks away.

I pay no rent but lend the property a feeling of life and lived-in-ness to ward off mongos trying to swipe waterheaters and strip copper pipes— this, an arrangement based on mutual benefit with the owner, Roberto. Everyday, I wake up to the sounds of an amicable Mexican crew, who hammer and saw away, and offer me beer, Pepsi or a breakfast burrito, and think I’m completely out of my mind. But as great as this is— this mode, this motorhome of mine— it could be much more than just an expediency for me or the other dwellers dotting the maps here in Los Angeles. With the right approach, RVs can make for a wonderful living critique of rent, real estate, and the dominant modes of what Henri Lefebvre calls the “production of space.” Actually, both a critique and a loophole.

Civilization is after all based on the sedentary, the systematic, and on the control of storage. Motorhomes answer these bases with nomadicity, self-sufficiency, and very distinct relations to storage— thereby slipping by many of the impositions of the civilized order. A set-up like this won’t suit every personality type, and definitely comes with problems of its own, but it really opens up doors for the Melvillian, the fundamentally uncivilized, and those eager to reimagine their everyday needs and practices (literally) from the ground up. Every necessity must move through an alternate channel of viability. Just by carrying out simple daily tasks like washing dishes or entertaining guests, I get to investigate the relationship of these viabilities to the larger order. Everyday life gives itself over to both unforeseen and deliberate transformations. Domesticity is either rejected or tortuously complicated to the point that I can finally bear it. I open up my door at night and admire the moonlight on the hills. Dogs yap in the not-so-distance. I boil water for coffee and rotini, and return to read or write while feeling like a captain at sea in the eighteenth century.


As much as I cherish this solitude, it’s never long before my thoughts turn to conspiracy. What I have in mind are the cultural possibilities of The Caravan. As I’ve said before, I’m more interested in forms of culture-making that, with respect to civilization, are more like thorns than they are flowers: prickly, uncooperative, and secretive. RVs are much nimbler, logistically speaking, and their organizational energies much lower, than spaces and warehouses of the kind I kickstarted in Philadelphia. And their nomadic mode better suits the way much culture already circulates, in the trunks of traveling culture-makers. We just have to hash out details. What I picture is not a band of people on perma-tour, but urban encampments of ten to twenty, on rented lots, with fixtures and some access to utilities, like I have now. Brick-and-mortar, castle-like spaces are powerful in ways, but may more easily fall victim to collapse or the wrath of authorities and normal people, and all the work and love that goes into them can be lost as quick as a signature. Caravans can scatter and recollect. And all the work and love will stay with them, and unlike most warehouse arrangements, they even carry along their own little personal infrastructures. The pettier problems that often plague life in warehouses— bathrooms, privacy, room construction, guests, chore-wheel passive-aggression over dishes and destructive parties— begin already solved and perfectly scaled. I imagine airplane hangars, fenced lots, maybe construction sites, or the parking lots of abandoned strip malls. Rooms and spaces reconfiguring at will. Modular communities, modular architecture, mobile but unhurried, modern but wonky.

Organization is made easier by permitting more disorganization, or rather more looseness and independence. This is different than democracy in the modern sense, in which one single decision must be reached, then imposed upon a circumscribed whole. The caravan harkens back to hunter-gatherers and nomadic peoples, where each and every member was ultimately allowed to say “fuck all you people— I’m out of here.” Decision is deterritorialized, and groupings can flock together and break apart, Voltronically, as the feeling or zeitgeist or inner culture demands. Need to practice your set? Imagine driving your practice space to a secluded vista overlooking the Pacific, and cranking out noise without any concern for bedtimes, then driving right back to the lot. Or want to go on tour— with music, an exhibition, a screening, a talk or discussion, a radio show, a vacation in the guise of a cultural event? With mobile, modular units, spaces can be events; and events, spaces. This is already done, I know, but I hate hippie shit, and burning man even more, and want to bang it out in a different, sharper sensibility. In the end though, it’s the form that interests me— hippie or no, homeless or no— and it could be far more common, feasible, and fleshed out. I’m willing to learn from whomever, wherever.

Okay, here are just a few of the questions that I will be asking in the times to come… If this became more popular, what would mobile real estate mean for the sociology and ideologies of neighborhoods, good, bad, and “up-and-coming?” Am I homeless, and if so, what has this homelessness or near-homelessness done to my status as a citizen? Would it be better to retain the stigma in order to keep the freedoms to ourselves— maybe even mythologizing on it, like the Golden Horde did with its capacity for violence? Why didn’t this thing come with an instruction manual and what do the dials on this panel mean? By measuring all that is coming in and going out, how do motorhomes create a more conscious or conscientious ecology that comes from utility and even laziness rather than feel-good, bullshit green-friendliness? How does mobile real estate create forms of mini-equity that frees owners from systems of rent and interest? How exactly do communities react to the menace of motorhomes through zoning laws and restrictions that maintain the privilege of— how should we call them— the landed gentry? And how would we fire back? When is which easier: to have certain forms of communal, lendable property or to each pay for the production and storage of each item? When is it better to remain disconnected from utility systems and when better to exploit them? How should we exploit them? What about the elements: the rain, the sun, the wind? How far can I perfect the ergonomics of this thing, and how does this perfection of “body-centric formulations” interact with the space around myself and the vehicle? What about building them from scratch? Mobile architectures? How much will this mode expose the false benefits of systems— utilities, real estate, roads, food and agriculture, petroleum, etc.— that actually siphon up benefits from users for owners and coordinators? What’s the best way to get good, solid internet and what is the relation between the spaces of RV-nomadicity and the spaces of internet? Am I gaining or losing leverage? Could there be mobile cities with as much coherence as the immobile ones? Aren’t RVs just the spaceships of the pre-future, the proto-future, and speaking of which, should I keep the interior classic and semi-nautical or just give in and go ahead with my inevitable Mir space-station aesthetic?

One of the best measures of life for me is how often I go to bed grinning or giggling to myself, and I’ve noticed this more whenever I’m feeling unhitched from the civil order. I crawl up into my bunk, using my skateboard as a footstool, and bury myself under the blankets. Brian Eno plays on my phone— “Needle in the Camel’s Eye”— and its fervor fills the cabin, along with strong whiffs of the rosemary I plucked on the walk home. Like my parents, my grandmother is as excited about this plan as I am. Last time we saw each other, we pulled out a piece of paper and started sketching up mods. I also couldn’t help myself and eagerly emailed Jameson about my situation; he was pretty psyched as well, seeing immediately its critical potential: “Incredible!” Talk about immanent critique. Watch for (2).


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