The Happy Nomad Girl
There’s someone I met once (read as ‘waved to’ when travelling back from Charleston), whose life and choices I admire. I admire her for having guts, taking opportunities and for realising her own non-conformist American Dream.
Many people would not like her life, but recently an expat psychologist asked me “to think about what your biggest dreams are. If money/fears/other people’s opinions were totally handled – what would you want for yourself?” And all I could think about were certain aspects of The Happy Nomad Girl’s life.
Meet The Happy Nomad Girl (and her VERY honest and EXTREMELY compelling interview)
My name is Anastassia, but the ones I keep close call me Stass. Three years ago, I came across a 1971 Dodge Campervan along Route 6 in Marseilles, Illinois. This discovery would reroute the course in life I so naively believed I was going in. My dog Ziggy and I been living in “Kristin” for almost two years now, making me a 26-year-old full-time van-dweller and her a 5 ½ year old wild mutt. I have no real job, two monthly bills, and an exploding desire for freedom. Ziggy just wants to run.
I now call The Road my home, but I come from the South Chicago suburbs. The kind of towns where they knock down trees to build homes and name streets after them. My parents raised my sisters and I to question everything and believe nothing. The three of us have our father’s wit and our mother’s good looks, a dangerous combination in this day and age.
Before anything, I must say, I loathe images. (I would use hate here, but Mom always said hate and love were strong words.) In the beginning, a few newspapers did their sweet, little stories on me. Not only did they jack up what I was trying to say, but made me appear to be a giant pink ball of fluff. The whole façade was quite embarrassing and I decided to never do it again. The production companies who call me can shove their scripts down the shitter.
I swear like a sailor, am an ex-drug addict, former stripper, and was quite promiscuous in days. Pink is far from my color. So this is me….right here, black and white.
I guess to the world I’m many things, depending on who you talk to: traveler, transient, bum, free spirit, wanderer, hippy, mooch, migrant. As with everything comes an array of opinions. If I ever gave a shit what anyone thought of me, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be living in a van.
1. So, you are the Happy Nomad Girl. What does this mean and how did it all come about?
So with that said, Happy Nomad Girl to me, is a young woman who had nothing left to lose any longer and set out on the open road to retrieve her sanity, repair a withered soul, and maybe, just maybe, find true love. As with any story, mine involves one full of trials, tribulations, and heartbreak. I had a rough life, just like everyone else, I’m no different. I was exhausted from the daily bullshit and grind, circling around pleasing people to the point of insanity. The Van became my way out which I title this chapter in my life, “Getting out of Dodge in a Dodge”. When I say I went crazy, I honestly did. I burned half of my belongings, packed a few boxes to keep at Mom’s, and put the rest in The Van. I left the following day.
2. You travel around the States in your camper van. Tell us all about it – the best bits and worst bits about that lifestyle.
Right at this very moment, the sun is shining its golden rays through my kitchen window in Natchez, Mississippi. I’ve seen sunrises and sunsets not even a photo would do justice. I’ve felt waves crashing at feet on more beaches than I can count and a few of those times, the taste of a warm kiss in the midst of it all. It’s quite awful, you know? I get to do whatever the hell I want when I want. Waking up some mornings, I sometimes decide it’s time to go. Leaving a place is absolutely one of the hardest things to do. I will never be capable of saying goodbye without tears in my eyes. I’m notorious for putting The Van in drive without a proper farewell to the dismay of newly found friends.
Living on the road, there are no constants but only variables. Sure, I have friends pinned across the country, but no one to laugh about my latest driveway escape with. I get lonely occasionally, mostly when I’m wishing I owned a dildo. 😉
3. When I saw you, I was driving back from Charleston to Myrtle Beach to get back to Baltimore. Where had you been and where were you going?
So that was October of last year….After fixing a burned valve in Chicago, I headed east. I was invited to The Wolfe Family Farm in Nashville, Indiana via my Facebook Page. I had a lack of judgment and brought an old beau with me. The two of us headed to Kentucky where we “boon docked” for two weeks in the Daniel Boone National Forest. My tranny kicked out at the exact same time the government shut down. We were in a Wal-Mart parking lot for two days with rotten food in the fridge, broke as hell, and fighting like dogs. He hopped out, which I took as a sign from The Van Gods. Why? That very day, a transmission shop fixed “Kristin” free of charge and sent me on my way. Then, after taking a wrong turn, I ran into a band called “Moccasin Creek” at a gas station just outside Morehead. They told me if I was ever near a show, I was more than welcome to hang. Well, two weeks later, The Creek contacted me about a music video they were filming in Bunnell, Florida. “You and that van of yours should come down!” Hell to the yes, how could I say no? So that’s where I was headed when I saw you, on my way to be in a music video.
4. Tell me some of the adventures you’ve encountered.
Mom, time for the earmuffs. I’ve picked up not only one, not two, but three convicted men. Two by myself, with one needing a ride to Target before going back to the halfway house. A truck driver once offered me $300 to give him a blowjob when I was stuck on the side of the road. Asshole. I went to a biker bash in Mississippi on fumes and left with $60 for gas money after doing a little number on a pole. I had my brakes go out in Dillon, Colorado as I was going down a hill, ultimately colliding into a spanking new 2013 Yukon rental. I drove Marisol Gonzalez in here while she interviewed me for Tele Visa. A woman donated 150 umbrellas to me and I sold them at any truck stop leading from Colorado to Paducah, Kentucky, labeling them as “Free”. I can most certainly say my greatest adventures are those involving love and they have taken me on some wild rides.
5. Complete this sentence: being a nomad is…..
A nomad is a lifestyle, not something cool you do on the weekends or when your boss allows you to go on vacation. We weren’t designed to root ourselves to one place and suck the land dry of all resources. Nomads move place to place, only using what is needed and continuing on. It’s not natural to live in a house someone else built, buy food you don’t know the origin of, or send your children away for eight hours to let someone else teach them the way of life. Nomads help one another, take only what is needed, and do their share at keeping the Earth alive. I’m not going to sit here and preach as I am guilty of not completely following through with this. I’m constantly learning what being a nomad truly is by listening to those who 110% live this life. Someone once called an “urban anthropologist” as I study and immerse myself in all these cultures, particular those of travel. I would be keener on that than nomad, but Happy Anthropologist Girl doesn’t ring too well. (Plus the acronym would read H.A.G.) 😉
6. How do people react to you and your van?
I thoroughly enjoy the reactions I catch when I’m behind the wheel. Drivers see me up ahead, maybe a half mile away, and by the time the car arrives at my window, their faces are priceless. I see people laughing with their passengers, veer of the road, and honk their horn, sometimes even a head shaking in disappointment. It’s those ones which simply smile I always remember. Maybe I brought them back to a time when they themselves took a cross-country road trip with their pals or when they clam-baked the shit out of their car at a Grateful Dead Show. Oh man, the children! They crack me up every time as I watch their foreheads smacked right up against the window.
Most of all, it’s the 5-0 which have proved to be my favorite. I really do enjoy getting pulled over as the cops believe they are onto something when they see my van whizzing by their $70,000 cruisers. “Look at the girl driving the painted up hippy van! Let’s go get ourselves a marijuana bust fellas!” “Sorry fellas, I don’t smoke the funky stuff.” “Oh you don’t? Well then you wouldn’t mind if we searched your vehicle then?” “Actually, yes I would. I have a bag full of two-week old dirty panties back there I wouldn’t want you to dirty your hands with.” They let me go without a ticket each and every time. I don’t smoke dode, contrary to popular belief, although sometimes I think ought to. I know my rights and without a search warrant or a probable cause they aren’t getting in. Just say no…to cops!
7. What’s your favorite place in the States and why?
My heart will always belong to Colorado, which is where I’m actually headed. (I think?!) I spent a few months in the Rocky Mountain state last year and left an entirely different human being. I’m used to the Midwest mentality; close-minded, set in their ways, judgmental. Many back home ridiculed me when I purchased The Van, but in deep in the Rockies, I discovered an entire van culture.
People wave at strangers there which completely blew my mind. Back home, the only hand signal you get from another car was The Bird. It took me 4 hours to get from Denver to Breckenridge as a result of my carb not being tuned to the altitude. It should have taken me less than two. Even at a steady 20 mph, not once did anyone blow their horn at me.
8. And your least favorite, and why?
Florida is the absolute worst. The bluebird days and crisp ocean air do not compensate for the lack of culture. I’ve been going there every winter for years, each time becoming more unbearable. If you’re an alcoholic, Florida is the place for you. I went through a time in my life when I was infatuated with anything mind-altering and found Florida to be a peninsula of addicts. All in all, not a great place for me.
I was in south Florida the morning I decided to head to The Keys. It’s literally and metaphorically, the end of the road. The people who reside there simply desire to be away from the world. The Florida Keys are their own sovereignty called “The Conch Republic”. It really was a slice of heaven, yet even there, I had the unpleasant taste of small town mentality. Driving a van covered in graffiti on an island with a ratio of 9:1 of men to woman, didn’t help any. I found solace in a brilliant couple, Martha and Tim of Pennsylvania. Together, they continually rooted me on when I was ready to give up. I honestly was ready to drive The Van into the ocean one day. Those feelings happen, I just have to get through them and sometimes all I need is a little nudge from my friends.
9. How do you decide where to go next on your travels?
Often at times, where I go may depend on my mood. I’m a woman, so it can change in a split second. Do I yearn for the privacy of the woods or a bustling city where I can share a beer with a complete stranger? I often cruise on Craigslist Rideshare to see where people need to go. This proves to be a great way to offset gas and meet like-minded people. When I say “like-minded”, I mean the weird and the freaky ;). I’ve met some truly amazing souls off the website, forming everlasting friendships and stories I’ll never repeat to my children.
There has been quite a few times in my travels, when I’m just not feeling the direction I’m headed in and turn around. This can be compared to the scene in “Forrest Gump” when he suddenly decides on a desolate desert road he doesn’t want to run anymore. This didn’t stem from traveling, I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m nuts, what can I say.
For instance, once I was on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border headed for New York City to visit a friend. I stopped at a gas station to fill up, got back in, and headed south. I ended up in the Outer Banks a few days later. Inhabitants of “The Sha-Boom-Boom House” let me park my van in their driveway right along the beach. We spent many nights out on their porch, telling stories and eating way too much red meat. Would this have happened in New York? I’ll never know.
10. Will you ever settle down, get a mortgage and start living the ‘American dream’?
You mean “The American Nightmare?” No way in hell. I’m free to do as I please, why change that? I’ve always said, “Don’t let the things you own, own you”. Why on Earth would I want to bust my ass so someone else can have twelve zeroes at the end of their bank account? Why would I want to come home every night, completely exhausted to the point I need two glasses of cheap red wine and a Xanax to relax? This goes back to my nomad theory. It’s just not natural to “settle down”. We’re conditioned as a society to be creatures of routine and resemble the next robot. I don’t want to be another player in a game unless it’ Spades. If I wanted to be like every American, I would have bling-bling pants on to match my $300 Coach purse I purchased off my high interest credit card.
11. What does the ‘American dream’ mean to you?
It’s all how you are perceived by the rest of the world; the car you drive, your lawn care service, your cookie cutter house, the $100,000 piece of paper hanging on your parents wall, down to the barbeque grill you own. It’s all bullshit. Why strive so everyone else will accept you? If we all did what we truly wanted to do, there would be more art to color this bleak world.
I’m not perfect by any means, nobody is. I make bad decisions often, but it’s the only way to learn. Risk everything or risk losing it all. There will come a time in everyone’s life, where they will wonder, “Did I do it right?” If I were to die tomorrow, I would be completely okay with it. Why? I can now say I’ve stayed true to myself, had a fabulous fucking time, and told anyone to go to hell who got in my way. I refuse to be that seventy year old woman regretting all the things I didn’t do. I’ve done everything I could have dreamed of doing and anything after this is icing on the cake. Life is good and extremely beautiful, the unexpected should be expected, and the bad could always be worse. There aren’t any ups without the downs and everything in the middle is the sweet taste of life. Live for today and not tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come.
NOT THE END 😉