Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Laguna Mountain Campground, California

32 53.26 N 116 26.83 W

I'm sure that everyone who has traveled in the west is familiar with the forelorn looking residences visible from the highway. Ramshackle buildings, mobile homes, or simple RV trailers stand central. Surrounding these might be out buildings, and often trash, debris and abandoned vehicles. Some of these sights are seen on Indian land, but by no means all. It is not an Indian cultural problem. It is much wider.

My observation is that the vehicles parked in front of these houses are often new and expensive looking. That is an inversion of what we easterners consider normal.

In The East, the market value of a house and property is generally 20 or more times higher than the value of the vehicles. In extreme cases, the ratio may be as low as 5:1. The inversion I observe in the west is that the value of the vehicles seems higher than the value of the house and property. Sometimes more than 5:1. In extreme cases more than 20:1. The most extreme I saw was a beat up RV residence with a shiny, new looking, Porsche parked outside.

What' going on? I'm not a sociologist, so I can't supply actual answers. But I can speculate on a half dozen or so explanations. My best guess is that low income people want some touch of luxury in their lives and that a luxurious vehicle can be bought for much less money than a luxury house. Heck, our Ford Taurus has leather seats, electric windows, AC, carpeted floors, and an entertainment system. Luxury is the norm in cars.

Most important iMHO is the complex and profound relationship between Americans and their cars. Europeans will never understand. Sweden has a government policy to stamp out privately owned vehicles. Usually, what happens there comes here 20-25 years later. In this case, I foresee a major revolution.

Americans anchor their identities in their cars. They choose residences and life styles to accommodate their cars (e.g. this inversion). They design cities and shopping facilities around car access. 50% of Americans were conceived in cars. If gas prices in the USA rose to $10 per gallon, it would cause a huge crisis, but very few people would give up their cars.

Try to imagine a society that required almost all citizens to live in high density cities within walking distance of their jobs and shopping, and with private cars forbidden. Global warming energy efficiency seems to demand that. I can imagine the rest of the world living that way, but I can not visualize Americans doing so ever.



  1. the owners of those expensive vehicles living in substandard housing would be your typical Obama voter...they measure their success on what they drive, the amount of jewelry around their necks, or the tennis shoes on their feet. definitely not where they live(stay) or what they do for a living...which probably isnt much. they are the recipients of all that welfare, food stamp, subsidized housing, obama phones, etc. the government keeps doling out and you and I pay for. living all those years in New England and then only seeing the coastlines of the southern states you really never got the full picture. they are a true blight upon this country and they are multiplying faster than the average working middle class.

  2. WOW, really? It's more likely these folks need to have a reliable vehicle because they live in such a remote area where land may be cheap, but everything is a long drive and a breakdown on the way back from getting groceries could be life threatening.

  3. Dick: We took a road trip south from Tahoe on 395 about 15 years ago with the kids - great time - Bodie, Mono lake, death valley etc..

    I observed that the small house along the road with cars on blocks with hood up was so common that I was thinking it was required decoration!


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