Rubber Tramps -- Documentary Film About Roadpeople And Life On The Road
People live in their vehicles for a variety of reasons. American cities are passing laws which are essentially criminalizing both poverty and homelessness. Rubber Tramps shows both the romantic and difficult aspects of living on the road and is explained thoughout by the commentary provided by author Ken Kesey. This film review by Alan Ruskin originally appeared on Earthblog.net and is reposted with permission. The original article by can be seen at; www.earthblog.net/rubber1.html
"Rubber Tramps" film review by Alan Ruskin
Rubber Tramps is a documentary film about people who live on the road traveling as they please in converted buses, vans and trucks - the "rubber" being, of course, the tires on their infinitely varied and sometimes startling-looking vehicles. While rubber may be apropos, "tramps" seems somewhat inaccurate as a generic term for these folks, many of whom seem more advanced and "together" than your typical sedentary dweller.
Most main-streamers not-in-the-know might choose to write off these freedom-seekers as an undesirable sub-culture on the fringes of society, the only environment that will harbor them, outcasts and weirdoes that they are. But not after "Rubber Tramps," no sir, not after viewing this quixotic and quietly penetrating film that succeeds in arousing sentiments in us that we might not have expected, feelings of admiration, respect, marvel and yes, even flashes of heart-rending, green-as-grass envy.
The odyssey begins with commentary by that luminary of hippydom, the late Ken Kesey, the celebrated author ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and avatar of the psychedelic 1960s. In his final media appearance, Kesey greets us from atop a tractor while expounding upon what it means to be truly alive. He initially invokes the renown gestalt psychologist, Frits Perls, who said, as Kesey reminds us, "Usually you're not really there - your mind is elsewhere - come back here, come back here to me." And that's what "Rubber Tramps" is all about - being in the moment, appreciating life for the natural wonder that it is, and moving, always moving, to see and experience as much of it as you can.
After Kesey's pithy introduction, filmmaker Max Koetter of Just Passing Through Productions, hits the road and takes us on a leisurely, beautifully paced journey through an alternate reality and panoply of characters as diverse as you could imagine.
There's "Freedom," a thirtyish, bearded, bright-eyed fellow who plays a small harp, juggles a lustrous glass ball and defines society's view of his ilk - "The culture doesn't have room for the mobile being (i.e., rubber tramp) in their social myth. We're seen more as a vagrancy, a degraded experience that only the poor would choose, rather than as an adventurer who chooses to step out boldly from the mainstream." This fellow called Freedom impresses us with his intellect, his poetry and above all, his humanity.
There's "Easy," a self-dubbed "aging Deadhead," (for those who may not know or remember, this means a devoted fan of the legendary rock group, "The Grateful Dead") who in his youth followed the group on its tours and decided to stick with the roadie lifestyle for the rest of his life. Easy reveals the elusive secret of his contentment -- "It's about freedom - the only thing holding me where I am now is me." He spends many of his afternoons in friendly games of dominoes with his fellow rubber tramps. "We play in daylight so we don't have to use the battery-powered lights."
In the idyllic course of "Rubber Tramps" we are treated to much gorgeous scenery and the innovative vehicles that transverse it - buses and vans converted into rustic, charming homes which are compact by any standard but whose inhabitants wouldn't have it any other way. We see the "Bicycle Bus" of RomTom (which means "Gypsy Tom"), the itinerant artist, photographer, writer and activist who earlier in his colorful life was jailed and savagely persecuted for his anti-war stance in the Viet Nam War era. After thirty years on the road with his French-Canadian wife (who now suffers from mental difficulties resulting from the government having "rescued" their three daughters from their hippy life-style), Rom Tom is as mellow and peace-loving as can be, still repairs and purchases bicycles wherever he goes, a gaggle of which famously decorate the top and sides of his '74 Ford bus, and has written a prodigious tome about his life entitled Comporting Roadwise. He also has many beautiful and wondrous photographs to display, visionary testaments to the legacy of the Rainbow People, a loosely knitted confederation of freedom-lovers that embodies the hippy ethic of the late 60s and early 70s, and still gathers to celebrate their spirit-driven counter-culture life-style. RomTom, as much as anyone in this film, makes us yearn for those magical days gone by.
Another legendary vehicle that we are privileged to glimpse is the "Further" bus immortalized by Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. In fascinating, grainy home-movie clips we see hippy luminary Neal Cassady at the wheel of the bus while spouting his own brand of wisdom - Kesey says of Cassady, "He believed that you had to be out there ahead, pushing yourself. He used the bus and cars as a visual aid, not just a means of transportation. The vehicle is an extension of our personalities and our dreams." Another classic comment and passionate cry for peace that Kesey as narrator makes in one of his several appearances is, "There are people who want to expand consciousness, and people that want to limit it - nothing limits consciousness as well as killing people with a gun." He adds, in certainly one of his more provocative quotes, "Instead of bombing Bosnia, why not take $80 worth of LSD and spread it over everything - then let 'em work it out."
On a tamer domestic level, another traveler shows us a book, "Rolling Homes," by Jane Lidz, in which we see stunning examples of the artistry and ingenuity that go into many of these home-spun vehicles, including one filled with ravishingly rustic, ornately carved wooden furnishings.
Another touching vignette focuses on a combat veteran, damaged both physically and emotionally from his stint in Viet Nam, who nonetheless struggles to raise his young son while maintaining the on-the-road life style for both of them. To judge by the boy's winning smile and playfulness, his determined father is succeeding admirably.
The traveler Freedom reappears from time to time, always sharing some thoughtful observation. In explaining the origin of his name, he espouses a view that might epitomize the belief of most of these folks, as well as appeal to many of the rest of us: "I seek freedom from fear, attachments and passions. Sometimes apprehension about the future might intrude and I might feel concerned about being abandoned by friends and family because of my chosen way of living. But I get over it quickly when I realize how rich the moment is with opportunity."
These are just a few of the very genuine characters in "Rubber Tramps," characters who compel us to reflect upon ourselves and the sorts of lives we are living. As Kesey harks back to his halcyon days, "We were trying to reclaim our lives to be in the present, not the past or the future like society tells us to be - but instead to be in a state of grace, exulting in a feeling of beingness, with nothing else to achieve except to be present and involved with life." It is a tribute to the makers of "Rubber Tramps" that they have convincingly captured that feeling.
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