Dirty Kids: Chasing Freedom with America's Nomads

Sixty years after the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Canadian journalist Chris Urquhart explores America's underground tramp culture in her compelling memoir Dirty Kids: Chasing Freedom with America's Nomads.

The memoir starts as a freelance assignment. In 2009, Urquhart writes an article in the Italian magazine Colors about a gathering of "Rainbows" in New Mexico. In Rainbowland, as the festival is called, she discovers a vibrant subculture of traveling hippies as well as "homeless folks, crusty punks, and inner-city youth who come for the sense of community." Nomadic, anti-consumerist and mystic, the Rainbows inspire Urquhart to immerse herself in similar subcultures for the next three years. She attends Burning Man in the Nevada desert. She visits the House of Ill Repute, "a rotted, sagging structure, an itching punk house sunk in the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan." She connects with Rainbows all over the United States.

Urquhart writes of her adventures with a clear style and a keen journalistic eye. As much as she finds a sense of belonging with the underground, she resists romanticizing it. She reports the mental health issues, the drug abuse and sporadic violence that plague many of the scenes she visits. At the same time, she does uncover an ethos of freedom and resilience born of "the blazing wildness" of living outside the mainstream. After three years on the road, reintegrating into a sedentary life, Urquhart concludes that her travels have taught her how to be "fully present--profoundly present." "Anyone, and everyone, can become family," she writes. "I do not overlook how important Rainbowland is in holding this space of possibility."

With a thoughtful foreword by Micah White, co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, Dirty Kids is an enlightening and entertaining read. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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