“We sold everything we have and decided to find, as we put it, our American dream,” says Josiane Simpson. She, Jared Holfeltz, and their son Gabriel are currently living out of their car. Jared Hopes to start a contracting business helping rebuild after natural disasters, but he recently hurt his wrist working a construction gig. So their dreams are on hold for a few weeks until his wrist improves.
– Meet the American Nomads of Walmart’s Plentiful Parking Lots (Wired, Nov 1, 2013):
If you’ve ever tried to sleep in your car on a long trip without planning ahead, you may have run into the law at some point. Each U.S. city has a different policy and tolerance for car-sleeping and it’s hard to find a legit spot if you don’t know where exactly you’ll be stopping.
What you can count on is one of Walmart’s over 3,000 stores being nearby. The company’s policy of allowing overnight stays in their parking lots is intended to boost sales, but has the tangential effect of creating a subculture around its locations (though they’re still at the mercy of local laws).
The two separate Walmart parking lots in Flagstaff, Arizona are specifically known for their long-term residents, and this past summer photographer Nolan Conway spent several days making a series of portraits of both the overnighters and the people who call these asphalt grids a temporary home.
“Flagstaff is the one place in Arizona where it’s not too hot in the summer and a lot of people who live in their cars or RVs stay there,” he says.
Conway’s portraits capture a broad and varied slice of America. He photographed people like Leroy Morris, who parks his RV in one of the Walmart parking lots every summer. Morris is a retiree who lives off Social Security with his dog Maggie as his only companion, but he says his years on the road have been the best of his life.
Then there’s Sheldon and Jackie Britton from Phoenix who were on their way to Milwakee for Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary. Their tricked-out and enormous fifth wheel had almost every amenity of a normal house, including a full-size walk-in closet and a set of china.
The younger people Conway photographed were usually on long road trips. Caleb Goodaker-Craig from Austin, who is pictured sleeping under a tarp on the asphalt, was on an 11,000-mile solo bike trip. Dave Gooding, Liz Deno, and their dog Shaggy were on their way from Georgia to Montana.
“It was definitely a diverse crowd,” says Conway.
Sometimes managers will say no to campers because space is limited. Conway says he’s unsure what the exact rules were for the Flagstaff Walmart parking lots but there were stories of the police coming and telling all the long-term campers to leave.
Conway says he first tried to make the Walmart portraits in another city during the winter but was routinely turned down. In Flagstaff people seemed more amenable, partly because it was summer and they were outside and more approachable, but also because these parking lots had so many long-term residents that they developed relationships and interacted on a regular basis. Their dogs would play together and residents shared meals and holidays.
“There was definitely a sense of community,” he says.