"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Aug 24, 2012

My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

(Chorus)  “See the USA...in your Chevrolet…”

BUNK.  The most incredible thing exists in America these days:  elitism in the camping world.  I know this for a fact because I’m not allowed in the overwhelming majority of private RV parks in the country.  The reason:  age discrimination.  If you don’t own an RV this might not concern you in the least, along with many of the other unjust rules in society today, but this Every-town problem may affect us all is in our pocketbooks, and if that doesn’t get your attention then I give up.  After you’ve read this, take me out of the mix, consider my points, and see what you think.  That’s all I ask.

If you’re new to my story, I am one of this country’s versions of the Traveling Salesman, a Starving Artist-turned-Entrepreneur, hitting the Farmer’s Markets, weekend festivals, and Co-Ops, as far as gas prices will allow.  After successfully developing and marketing my products in So.O., the past year-plus, it’s slow-going but promising, so I am attempting to expand my product, Woofers and Tweeters,throughout Oregon.  Locally owned and produced, using local suppliers, supporting (through formal agreement) a local non-profit; makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.  That’s the extent of my pitch.

My first truck, with bullet holes
and flames (stickers)
I am also practically indigent.  There, I’ve said it.  Sad, but true, luckily my parents instilled in me a sense of hope-fullness, which I try to share with others.  It’s just like standing in a long line at the grocery store (alright, those don’t exist anymore; we’re too impatient, but just pretend); you always feel better when someone’s behind you.

No!  I know he’s waving you over but don’t go; who’ll watch my back?”  In the economic scheme of things, turn around and there I’ll be.

My home is an early 1990’s, 16-foot travel trailer I’ve kept in one location in Southern Oregon since purchasing it two years ago.  By traveling with my turtle shell, I hoped to save money on motel rooms, see some unseen-scenery and meet nice folks along the way.  See the USA, at least my little corner of it.  I have a space reserved at a Pet Expo in Portland the beginning of October; after that I’ll know if the holiday orders warrant my continuing efforts, or if I should go back to being an artist and turn this back into a hobby.  It’s a make-or-break situation; stay tuned.

I knew my biggest deterrent would be gasoline prices and it’s a killer, but I intended to travel short distances and perhaps stay for a month in one location, unhook the truck, and branch out from there.  It may not be the right way to market, but it’s is my way, my dream; and I’ve got the kind of product best explained and sold in person.

For hours I investigated various RV parks throughout the state; their locations, monthly rates, pet restrictions, amenities (in many locations, free WiFi is provided) and photos.  I’ve looked into, but passed on, State and Federal Parks which permit, at most, 2 weeks at a time; are often in beautiful, but distant, locales; and finally, are mostly back-ins, as opposed to pull-through sites, something I’ve discovered I need help with, and not everyone is willing.  Even the sign on my door didn’t make the last fellow crack a smile as I struggled into the tight space, with “…or else you’ll jackknife…” ringing in my ears.

So here’s the story:  Over the telephone, I reserved a space for a week in Salem, mid-way between Eugene and Portland, the three largest markets in the state.  Earlier in my travels, I was able to turn my weekly rate into an economical monthly just a few days after I arrived; I considered the same option.  The park was just off the I-5 freeway, yet surprisingly quiet.

Spoiled by my site of two years, with huge deck, trees, greenery and SPACE, I continued to run into parks which look more like RV Sales and Service joints.  These contain truly monstrous rigs, with slides that pop out in all directions, so that when you walk inside it truly seems like magic.  All the comforts of home, and then some.  They are either pulled by new trucks with powerful engines, or towing their  not-too-shabby ‘run-about’ vehicle.

Their occupants are primarily retired, but there are the occasional young parents.  You just know they’ve got their own dot.com.

The rent's not bad, compared to what they’d have to pay in an Adult Community or elsewhere, and I imagine their vehicle payments are less than their former mortgages.   Two people on Social Security could live comfortably.  Rental spaces for the month average $350-450 (versus $200 weekly rates); inclusive but for electric consumption, which because of their capacity can run into hundreds of dollars.  They nothing more than fancy tin cans and don't appreciate, but they're pretty comfortable.

Satellite dishes, vegetable gardens, outdoor smokers, pet enclosures and full patio furniture surround these homes.  Additional transportation competes for space with bicycles, mopeds, kayaks, small boats, and rolling storage containers which hold whatever doesn't fit inside. They rarely, if ever, actually travel with their RV; not for 2 MPG going over mountain passes.  I’ve been told more than once,

“This is my final move.”

Short of hospice or the grave, I assume.  That is sad, for me, too; I’m surrounded by people waiting to die. 
After a couple of days I realized that while it was not ideal, the location was better than good; it was only temporary; and the State Fair was right around the corner, Ya-Hoo!  I asked about turning my week into a month but was informed my space was rented; none other was offered so I assumed they were booked.   I still hoped for a homier place.

My marketing was going well, but finding another place to live wasn’t.  Anything described as picturesque turned into trailer trash or other similar disappointments.  Short on time, I bit the bullet and resigned myself to live amongst these white behemoths, but closer to Portland.  A Reader’s Digest version:

Turned away from place after place, my trailer was too old.  They would only allow RV’s within 10, 12 or at most 15 years of manufacture.  No one could offer a reason.  They may leak more, one gal suggested.  I countered,

“So, you’ll let in a couple of inbreds with a late model, but not me.”

Right.  Returning to my park, tears threatened as I envisioned the disintegration of all my business plans, not to mention my Travels with Charley dream.  No one ever mentioned this obstacle to me; when did camping become so elitist, for heaven’s sake?  Many places don't even allow tents; so much for those wanting to experience real roughing-it.  But at least during the week I’d overheard several monthly rates and availabilities quoted back at the barn, so perhaps now there was an open space.

Minding my own beeswax
The person who’d checked me in was working; I explained what I’d experienced and then asked whether THEY had the same rule.

Affirmative, but the employee had not known of the policy at the time.  So even though they did have several spaces available, I was not welcome to one and had to leave.   Putting two and two together, I theorized aloud that I’d been admitted by mistake in the first place; also confirmed.  Given a list of possibilities on my way out, my embarrassment continued while attempting to locate an alternative over the telephone, since this age restriction is not posted on websites.  I divulged more personal information than any person should to a stranger, and then my trailer was inspected by those outfits which make ‘exceptions to the rules.’  I know I didn’t need to answer, but I was desperate and that’s part of my point.

That’s pretty much my story; now please consider the following:

1.      Argument:  Private parks may do as they please, just like restaurants reserve the right to refuse.  Fine; post the rules and adhere to them.  I can’t help wonder if that applies to race and religion; is that why I only say one person of color that week; was he let in by mistake, too?

2.      Argument:  It’s a safety, health or liability issue. Fine.  I’m all for protecting property, but again, post it or state it clearly over the phone, to save an expensive gas trip just to be turned away. My trailer should have been inspected BEFORE the personal questions.  I know I didn’t have to answer, but I was desperate, and that’s part of my point.

3.      Alternative, less-than-pristine places can be just as expensive IF NOT MORE SO than the nice places, with fewer amenities.  You should have seen what I was shown for $410, no WiFi, plus electric, plus dog deposit.  The premium must be for the ‘tacky-factor’, but in reality the owners know they’ve got the residents by the neck.

That’s what I’m facing, and it’s not a pretty sight, let me tell you.  My current location is fine and I like the town, but it's more expensive than where I was, 25 miles further away from my goal of Portland, and in an area with fewer business prospects.  I’m tempted to throw in the towel, but I won’t, yet.

I know the stereotypical arguments about the undeserving poor; I used to raise them myself, but when your meager income is eaten up primarily by living expenses, there’s little left to do but sit and wait until the next check arrives, and depression festers.  I know, because my search cost valuable money I’d earmarked for my business.  No problem; I like Top Ramen, especially 5 for a buck, and with my new library card I can rent DVD’s for free.

This is not sour grapes:  I’ve met other RV’ers who are marketing their goods, same as me, some in rigs older than mine.   We would like an opportunity to obtain the same reasonable rates as others in order to push our local products and compete in the marketplace; like in olden days when towns would do things like waive entry fees or charge less tax on local’s goods, whatever, in order to give them a chance; help their own.  (Sorry; I rented Cadfael.)  If every town, every state adopted this, it would help even the playing field and create goodwill by keeping at least some of their hard-earned in their own state, where we are developing cottage industries and attempting to help stimulate the economy.  It’s hard to compete with larger outfits which tempt with fancy packaging, and then take their orders back to their home states or worse, overseas, for production.

In my written letter to the absent landowner, I acknowledged any reluctance to have his property become another trailer-trash site, but commented that this is a perfect opportunity to develop a new marketing approach and do something good for the community.  He has not had the decency to even acknowledge the poor treatment I received at his establishment.  Shows character, or lack thereof.

Elitism.  I suspect after the summer months, when the Snowbirds head south, many of these same RV parks will throw their age restrictions out the window, and I’ll probably have an easier time getting around.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that the policy is unfair, and come Spring I could just as easily get unceremoniously tossed out on my ear.  Again.

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