When Bob Wells decided to give up his previous life as a grocer to take to the streets as a true nomad, he knew he was embarking on an unpredictable journey.
But he could never have guessed where he ended up on Sunday evening: he gathered with his compatriots to watch the film Nomad land Win the Oscar for the best picture.
It’s a movie in which Wells has a memorable role, playing alongside the famous Frances McDormand, who took home the Oscar for best actress.
“I was thrilled and happy,” Wells told me in an interview with his specially equipped van somewhere in the Nevada desert.
“It will stay in my memory forever.”
Filmmaker Chloe Zhao (who won the Oscar for Best Director) became aware of Wells after he was featured in the book in 2017 Nomad Land: Surviving America in the 21st Century.
The book tells the story of the “van dwellers,” a subculture of passing Americans who live in their vehicles and wander the country in search of good weather, temporary jobs, and free parking.
Many of these modern nomads are elderly, poor people looking for affordable, fixed income lifestyles.
It’s a description that fits Wells, 65, who quit his job in Alaska after his marriage breakdown left him broke and miserable.
“I drove past this old van that was for sale every day,” he told me.
I thought, ‘I could live in it! It would solve all of my problems. I wouldn’t have to pay any more rent. “So I bought her and moved in.”
That was in 1995. Little did Wells know that he was up to date with a new social movement that is documented daily on social media under the hashtag #vanlife.
When Wells saw the growing interest, he started a YouTube channel called Cheap RV Living, which attracted half a million loyal followers.
He also started an annual nomadic gathering called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, which has drawn thousands of fellow hikers to the Arizona desert.
“You don’t want a lonely life out here,” Wells said.
“You want to live a rich, fulfilling life. And part of that are other people. So I worked on building a community. “
Along the way, he adopted the nomadic lifestyle, which was originally a source of shame.
“Society tells us what life should be like,” he said.
“We call it the American Dream, and I’m sure it is similar in Canada: go to college, get an education, find a career, get married, have kids, get a house, work for him Rest of your life and then retire the golden years.
“But I was forced to make another choice. At first there was a sense of shame associated with it. Then I discovered that it was a choice that made me really happy. “
His experience on the road gave him an insight into America – and Canada too.
“I drove across Canada,” he said. “British Columbia is possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world. And the Canadian Rockies are just breathtaking. “
He said the lack of universal health care in the United States was one of the most noticeable differences that he noticed.
Unexpected health crises – especially for underinsured Americans – are among the many glaring aspects of life he sees up close in a nomadic community that he will never leave.
“We live an alternative to a failing society,” he said.
“I would never go back to my old life. My goal is never to live in a house again. “
Mike Smyth is presenter of “The Mike Smyth Show” on News Gob Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and commentator for News Gob. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.