It was the day after “Nomadland,” partly shot at Quartzsite, Arizona, won the Oscar for Best Picture. But the owner of a rock store and gift shop was preparing a sign announcing another fame claim from Quartzsite: Home of the world larger belt buckle.
“I’m going to take these guys off the freeway,” Phil Bates, owner of the Main Trading Post, said Monday as he readied the road sign announcing the four-by-eight loop.
One of Quartzsite’s industries has indeed prompted drivers along Interstate 10 to come into town for gas and food.
Quartzsite also hosts internationally renowned rock and mineral shows and has shops that sell gemstones year round.
But its other vital element are winter visitors. The two people with deceived RVs occupy a designated space in one of the city’s many suitable RV parks. As well as those who find space in the surrounding desert.
Where Fern lived in ‘Nomadland’
It was the latter who was represented in Nomadland. Francis McDormand won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of Fern, a widow who is moving from a town where the company has closed. She turns her van into a house and begins her nomadic life at Quartzsite, a small desert town in western Arizona.
It’s not entirely clear whether winning Best Picture will result in more tourists deciding to pit at Quartzsite. But Bates said he plans to be ready to sell “Nomadland” related T-shirts and tchotchkes to any of the curious newbies.
“I saw it was winning,” he said, “it was like, son of a gun, this movie really took off.”
Quartzsite nautical club
The filming of the film at the end of 2018 did not seem to attract much attention from the locals, nor to disrupt daily activities. Most of McDormand’s scenes were filmed where nomadic travelers camp, in the desert south of Interstate 10. The town proper is north of the freeway, although two Quartzsite companies are shown in the movie.
In one scene, McDormand dances with his co-star David Strathairn inside the Quartzsite Yacht Club, a Main Street bar and grill that offers live music when open.
However, those who wish to visit the Quartzsite Yacht Club will have to wait until at least October. The bar closed for the season in February, a bit early due to staff issues, according to its Facebook page.
MeMe Selleck, owner of the Yacht Club since 2015, said the bar will reopen in October with what she plans to be ‘Nomadland’ merchandise for sale. She will undoubtedly be selling more Quartzsite Yacht Club memberships, each priced at $ 49.99.
The bar is at the center of an owner-tenant dispute that is due to be tried in La Paz County Superior Court in July, court records show. But Selleck didn’t expect this to change his business.
Donald Miller, who sings his “Quartzsite Vendor Blues” in the film, will be back at the club, Selleck said.
“With the movie and the big hype, I got a lot of messages,” Selleck said. “I think it will be positive for everyone in this city.”
A sad piano song at Reader’s Oasis
In the film, McDormand also takes in a performance by Paul Winer, who plays a soulful boogie-woogie piano song paying homage to dead friends. This piano is located in a small music room adjoining the Reader’s Oasis bookstore, also along Main Street.
A scout for the film heard of Winer’s play and sent a video to the film’s director, Chloe Zhao, who decided to include him in the film, said Joanne Winer, Paul’s wife.
In the piano scene, Winer offers a musical toast to, as he sings, “the friends who had to go. The friends in our hearts,” concluding, “Help me make the tears smile.”
Winer died in November at age 75 after an illness that began to strike him around the time of filming, said Joanne Winer. Paul Winer couldn’t see himself in the movie, but he figured he would do the final cut after receiving a check for $ 1,000, Joanne Winer said. She also received an advance royalty check of another $ 1,000 as Winer’s song, “Next To The Track Blues,” was put on the film’s soundtrack.
Paul Winer earned the nickname “The Naked Bookseller” because he was naked most of the time. However, said Joanne Winer, he didn’t need to tell her the filmmakers would want him dressed for his piano performance in the film.
Joanne Winer said she hopes for an increase in “Nomadland” in business. She said that with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping tourists away this winter, especially Canadians, her business was down 80% from last year.
Much of her business, she says, comes from tourists who want to buy a book as a souvenir rather than a t-shirt.
The inhabitants of the desert and the most important bucket
Nomads camping in the desert form their own community during the winter months, said Mark Goldberg, who runs an Off-Road Quartzsite, an atlas of interesting sites that can be viewed by all-terrain vehicle users.
Goldberg also helps organize groups of volunteers who clean up after what he called the small percentage of desert dwellers who leave trash behind.
Although the film famously describes the merits of different sizes of plastic buckets to use as toilets, Goldberg said the film does not show proper disposal techniques. This would involve either a pit toilet on the grounds of the Bureau of Land Management or a solid waste management facility at Quartzsite.
“We want to maintain the quality of what we have,” he said, “the beauty of the desert”.
Most of Quartzsite’s seasonal visitors, both nomadic and RV dwellers, have started packing, fleeing to cooler climates as summer approaches, said Lynda Goldberg, Quartzsite City Council member. . Mark Goldberg is her husband.
During the summer, motorists stop for fuel, food, and hopefully from the city’s perspective, a souvenir of sorts.
Winter visitors start to return in October. Some last until after Thanksgiving. Tourist traffic picks up in January when the gem shows begin.
Goldberg said she expects to see a few more long-term visitors next fall and winter following the film. “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge, huge sum, but I think we will absolutely have curious people,” she said.
In April, city council passed a proclamation to show its formal appreciation for the “national and international recognition” the film has brought to Quartzsite, its businesses and its residents.
Goldberg believes more motorists will be leaving Interstate 10, just to get a quick glimpse of where the movie was shot. She said she expected the gift shops along Main Street to start carrying items related to “Nomadland” soon.
One possibility she thought of was a five gallon bucket. To be used as a novelty, not as a necessity.
“I can see white buckets with Quartzsite on them,” she says. “You know very well that this is coming.”