It’s Traveler season. I’m not talking about snowbirds. I’m talking about the hundreds of shiny new pickup trucks that fan out every spring from Murphy Village, South Carolina to all parts of the country, crewed by fast-talking men wearing expensive gold rings and knocking on the doors of the elderly, offering to repair roofs and driveways. Most of the time those repairs are shoddy. All of the time the repairmen are unlicensed. And a shoddy repair job is often the prelude to a more elaborate, and costly rip-off of one sort or another. Murphy Village’s Travelers are Irish, but around the country there are also Scottish and English Travelers.
Murphy Village is a hodgepodge of massive homes and house trailers, with far fewer surnames than you’ll find in most communities and most of them Irish, including Gallagher, Daley, Sherlock, Burke, Caroll, Jennings, McNalley, Reilly, Gorman and McDonald. The residents avoid strangers, and it’s the same in walled trailer parks in Texas and other Traveler enclaves around the country.
Travelers arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century, continuing to ply the trades they had pursued back home: tinkers and horse traders. Some say their way of life goes back thousands of years, perhaps even linking them to the lost tribes of Israel. They speak their own language, called “cant” when they don’t want to be understood by non-Travelers. In time they changed their line of business to more closely match what the modern world demanded, moving into home repair instead of mending kettles. But they have also become walking Swiss Army knives of various grifts and scams.
Some are shoplifters, working in teams to have one create a distraction while another Traveler flees with the goods. Others will tell a McDonalds manager of a wedding ring lost in a trash can, then when it isn’t found there shake him down for a few hundred dollars instead of calling the police and making an insurance claim. One had her own brother duct tape her to a bed and beat her in a Disney World hotel and almost succeeded in suing for $3 million dollars. She went to prison.
Back in Murphy Village, their toddlers wear makeup and sequined gowns and are often married off before they reach their teens. Parents of girls at times pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to wed their daughters to the sons of particularly successful fathers. Of course “success” is defined on the Travelers’ terms, and often includes a string of charges and convictions in just as many different jurisdictions. Education is typically over by the sixth grade, and boys are often driving on phony drivers’ licenses when they are fourteen.
If you or a loved one is elderly, it’s important to know that legitimate contractors will have their contractor license numbers readily available, and that the numbers can be verified on the internet or with a phone call to the applicable state agency. That unmarked rig that pulls up, no matter how shiny, is simply a warning sign that the Traveler driving in it is very good at what he does for himself, and not so good at what he will do for a roof or a driveway.