Harbingers of a New Era

Perhaps citizens of every tourism-oriented economy reserve the right to gently

mock the very visitors that employ them.

In the Yukon, for example, tourism contributes more than $100-million to our Gross Domestic Product and helps to generate a quarter of our jobs. Nonetheless, these figures don’t prevent us from gathering amongst ourselves to coyly chuckle at the follies of our benefactors.

There are the fundamentalist travellers who refuse to visit the Beringia Centre because of the centre’s assumption that the world is more than 6,000 years old. There are the romantics, disappointed by the lack of northern lights in July. And there are the retirees who pilot whale-like RVs up the Alaska Highway.

Note: membership in the latter category does not preclude membership in either of the first two.

Because of their undeniable vehicular visibility, RVers are especially easy targets for our mockery and/or scorn.

We see them in the Wal-Mart parking lot and we marvel at their ability to forsake all aesthetic concerns in pursuit of a cheap sleep. We see diminishing ice caps on the news and then view RVs as a physical manifestation of this problem (fair enough). We grimly avert our eyes as they make stroke-inducing left-hand turns. We calculate their gas bills in our heads.

Yet ever since I was a little kid I have been fascinated by RVs, and the scope of my fascination is directly proportional to the size of the vehicle. A small camper is easily ignored, but one of those bus-like motor homes will fire me up.

Part of the reason these rolling residences capture my attention is because I have always been interested in how unseen space is used. A building I have never been in will prompt me to wonder what’s inside. However, once I enter and investigate, said building becomes more banal. But for as many RVs as I have seen, I have actually been inside very few of them —particularly the really big ones — so a sense of mystery remains.

More importantly, RVs appeal to me because they force us to question some assumptions about the nature of “home.” Home has traditionally been rooted in a particular geographical location, but for RV travellers home can be Fort Nelson one night, Watson Lake the next, and Whitehorse the night after that. Even as a young kid, this blew my mind.

Furthermore, I would argue that with the advancement and ease of communication technologies like Skype, home is gradually becoming less of a physical phenomenon and more of a social/mental one. Homeless people may rightfully disagree with me on this assertion.

Still, if I am right that the global village is changing the way many of us think about home, RVers can rightly point out that their untethered approach to the concept is ahead of its time.

With that in mind, perhaps we can briefly think of RV tourists as more than just cranky road menaces, and rather as harbingers of a new era — part of Marshall McLuhan’s prophetic future.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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