A visit to the U.S. South and South West in wintertime. Links to all pages:
Below is a section on Prefabs (Modular Homes).
Steinbeck was intrigued by mobile homes. He thought they showed a new way of living for America, reflecting the attitude that if you don't like a given place, you should be able to pick up and leave.
Steinbeck wonders about rootlessness and asks an Italian-Irish couple living in a mobile home. They answer that they don't mind being rootless: "Who’s got permanence? Factory closes down, you move on. Good times and things opening up, you move where it’s better. You got roots you sit and starve. You take the pioneers in the history books. They were movers. Take up land, sell it, move on .. How many kids in America stay in the place where they were born, if they can get out?"
Make no mistake: it is generally assumed that John Steinbeck invented most of his travel dialogues in the "Travels with Charley" book, which makes it fiction, not non-fiction.
Ten years after John Steinbeck, Joan Didion saw a different reality. She went to the hairdresser in Guin, Alabama. The newly married hairdresser lived in a trailer with her husband. "Trailers got hot, we all agreed. They cool down at night, Debby suggested." Didion concludes her visit in Guin this way: "It seemed a good and hopeful place to live, and yet the pretty girls, if they stayed around Guin, would end up in the laundromat in Winfield, or in a trailer with the air-conditioning on all night."
Sixty years later, it is clear that the residents of mobile homes and prefabs are stuck in low-income neighbourhoods. Most mobile homes never leave the trailer park where they were once located. It is cheap housing, low quality and low durability. The residents do not choose to live in mobile homes or prefabs because they want to, but because they cannot afford anything else. If you want to meet them, go to the nearest laundromat.
The U.S. is the world's richest country, but large parts of the American working class have a much lower quality of housing than what can be found anywhere in Europe. There is nothing in Europe that compares to American trailer parks, Gypsy settlements in Slovakia excepted.
A large part of the American population lives in prefabs ("pre-fabricated homes" or modular homes). Prefabs are narrow houses built on a steel frame in a factory. The width is 12-16 feet (3.7-4.9 meters). The frame is equipped with wheels so that the prefab can towed to the destination. Prefabs are made of flimsy materials and are not made to last.
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